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Too Many Characters???

October 3, 2015
Posted at 11:52 pm

I'm often asked how I keep all my characters straight in Living Next Door to Heaven, but a couple weeks ago I was asked if I would please consider cutting the number of characters. It wasn't proposed that I have a wholesale massacre and kill a bunch of people off (at least I don't think that's what he meant). He suggested that Brian start to focus on a smaller group of people and not have everybody in the world have a part in the play.

I understand. Really! I keep an Excel spreadsheet of all the characters in the book. It actually has a lot more information than just the characters. I have worksheets within the workbook for the timeline of each part (in Part VI, I gave up keeping this in Excel and actually have a dedicated Outlook Calendar that tracks the action day by day), sheets for group gatherings in the LNDtH1 and for group gatherings in LNDtH2; a sheet for housing arrangements and who is in which location when they change; a sheet of every clan member and significant individual's birthday; a sheet that shows every clan member's major in college (if they go) or career, any special responsibility for Hearthstone Entertainment, and any role that they fill in the clan as a whole (like security); a sheet that shows all the clan and casa affiliations; a sheet that has all of Brian's class schedules from 8th grade through college; a sheet of all the various basketball tournaments and who played in what game; a sheet of all the place names (roads, churches, schools, restaurants, etc.); and last but not least, a sheet of every named character with a brief description of who that person is. If the only mention of a character is "We went to the game with Josh and his friend Dan," and Dan is never mentioned again, he doesn't show up in the list. But without those characters, my character list is 275 names. Fifty of those have been added in LNDtH2.

In all fairness, only 129 actually show up so far in LNDtH2.

Easy, right? I understand the reader's complaint that there are too many people to keep track of. But isn't that like life? I'm not suggesting that every novel should have all the characters named that we come in contact with, but the truth is that on a daily basis, we simply filter out dozens of people with whom we interact. They are unimportant unless they crop up again. Then we think 'oh yes, I met her at that dance.' We never think about her again.

I've let Brian accumulate an overwhelming number of people in his life. He knows every individual in his clan by name and most of their parents. He has college classmates, almost none of whom are ever mentioned. There's the frickin' contractor for god's sake! Not to mention the insurance adjuster, the neighbors, the lawyers, the camera and production crew, the professors, competitors, and other teammates. As hard as that is to keep track of, it is part of Brian's character. It is what stresses him. Not only are there 52 people in the clan, he's become lovers with 25. Plus Heaven! No fucking wonder the dude is on the edge of a nervous breakdown all the time!

Still, the reader has a valid point. People disappear from our lives. Not just through death, but the disappear through marriage, distance, disagreement, and simple lack of trying. And that's just plain hard to accept--for me and for Brian. When he says, 'we might not always be lovers, but I will always love you,' it means something. He isn't going to forget--or if he does, he's going to be wracked by guilt over it.

But you can expect that there will be some attrition. People are getting older. They are pairing up. They are moving away. And yes, there are some new planets caught in the orbit of his star, but I would guess (I haven't actually written it yet) that his circle will begin to tighten. There will be fewer people on the surface of his mind and more will be buried deeply. Not all of those will stay buried, but they'll go down for a while.

That's just the nature of this beast I've created. Enjoy!