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Length of stories and chapters

Wild Willie

What are people's views on story and chapter length?

There's a posting on another thread (Romance or Erotica by Lumpy) by Chris Podhola that states: "I ask this because many readers might be intimidated by story that long."

For myself, I try to keep chapters to between 2,000 and 4,000 words. Stories will be however long they need to be, but say 20 chapters making a whole story 40,000 - 80,000 words.

The size codes on here are in kB or file sizes, not words. But when browsing for a story to read I almost never open anything under 20, nor over about 600 as I feel it will get over long. Certainly stories of over 1,000 intimidate me - but I would happily read a series of four 500 stories. So in my opinion authors should split long stories.

But what are your views?

Dominions Son

@Wild Willie

My chapters run around 10-11k words.

Switch Blayde

@Wild Willie

I never gave any thought to chapter length. They're as long as they need to be to tell the scene from that character's POV. My novel has a chapter under 1,000 words and another over 6,000. That doesn't bother me.

I read the best seller "Killing Lincoln." That author artificially shortened the chapters which annoyed me (and as a reader I like short chapters).

I love short stories, so they can be as short as the author wants as long as he tells a story (rather than a scene he calls a story).

As to long stories, I don't care how long it is as long as it keeps my interest.

docholladay

@Wild Willie

As a reader I think the length depends on the story both for number of chapters and how long a chapter needs to be. It can be nice when the chapters are fairly uniform in size, but its not required. Sometimes a chapter actually needs to be shorter or longer in order to work right.

As to overall length of a story that also varies. But for longer stories I agree that they probably should be broken up into a series somehow.

The breakup can be done at what I call "Natural Break Points". Those points can be any point which can be considered both an ending and a starting point like a change of seasons for example. A graduation is both an ending and a beginning depending on the point of view. Its the end of a school period (whether high school or college) and the beginning of a new stage in life. There are many natural break points use them if need be to break up a longer story into a series.

It will keep the risk of that proverbial uncompleted status flag from hurting the story's overall appeal. I personally think some series are unplanned but a result of the story's needs.

Regardless tell your story your way. Readers will either enjoy it or not for its own merit.

Lumpy

I had several early chapters where there were natural break points, but the chapters came in at just about 2,000 words. That was probably the point when the feedback from readers got the worst. People were very upset that they were getting such small updates to the story.

Now I try and keep my chapters between 4k and 5k words (More than that and I find my chapters to jump around to many events and not be focused enough).

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Lumpy

I had several early chapters where there were natural break points, but the chapters came in at just about 2,000 words. That was probably the point when the feedback from readers got the worst.


One advantage to finishing the story before posting is I break for chapters where it's appropriate for the story; mind you, I also do sub-chapters. Then when I post the story I post about 8,000 word chunks where it matches with a chapter or sub-chapter break. That way the readers get a good dose and I maintain my rules on chapter breaks.

richardshagrin

It seems obvious Ernest is right. Many good things can happen when you are working with a complete story before posting it. On the other hand, some authors have a motivation problem to complete their stories, or at least take them to a reasonable place for book one to end. For them the feedback and the pressure to complete the next chapter are the best way for them to do the necessary work. And some authors seem to start with no idea or only a general one of where the story is going to go and how it will end. Some of the longest stories on SOL are like that. And some pretty good ones are incomplete because the author's motivation or ability to complete the work died, or they did.

Authors or potential authors, if you can stand to, please write complete stories or the first book of a long story before you post it. I hope you will be happy about how it is received. There are lots of potential readers who will be glad, too.

docholladay

Maybe the trick is to change the viewpoint a little bit. How about instead of the length of a chapter changing it to the length of a story update posting with 1 or more chapters per posting. You can have the preferred length then while giving the flexibility of shorter or longer individual chapters. I admit at times I wait until more than one chapter has been posted between reading an ongoing story. Gives me more to read per story. SOL's download limits are on the number of stories per day not the number of chapters.

Crumbly Writer

I'd always aimed for 6,000 words per chapter, though that varied by as much as 2,000 to 14,000. During a revision of one series, I artificially cut off anything over 12,000. My average was 6,000 to 10,000.

However, now that I'm getting better at editing, I'm also writing shorter chapters, and unlike Ernest, I don't repackage my stories to post online. Exciting, fast chapters tend to be shorter, while detailed reflective chapters tend to be longer, but those work out, as readers feel more 'satisfied' with the action chapters.

Now I'm averaging around 4,000, with a range of 2,000 to 8,000. However, I'll have to see how readers respond to it. In one story, the chapters near the end are especially short (there's lots of action), and they all came in around 2,000 to 3,000!

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

unlike Ernest, I don't repackage my stories to post online.


CW,

Maybe I wasn't making myself clear enough. I don't repackage my chapters at all. I write in chapters and sub-chapters and sections, each with their own headings. At the start of the story I post a Chapter Contents List which has each Posting Part in green (this equates to a SOL chapter number) and then the story table of contents broken up into the parts with a notation at the bottom of Headings: chapter in red, sub-chapter in blue, section in bold. Thus the chapter, sub-chapter, and section formatting is retained. When I post I go through the story and find a segment that ends at a chapter or sub-chapter end that is the correct word range I want and cut there to make it a posting part. Thus the SOL chapters do not correspond exactly to my story chapters, and the colours come across as I want. Some times SOL puts the Contents list with the prelude or cast list, sometimes at the start of the first SOL Chapter Part.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Maybe I wasn't making myself clear enough. I don't repackage my chapters at all.

Sorry, I must have gotten confused about who said what. Someone (Switch?) commented about repackaging book chapters to create longer chapters on SOL. I was just saying that maintaining separate stories can get confusing.

Perv Otaku

If you think about soap operas or the series 24, an episode doesn't stop because there's a logical break in the action, the episode stops because it used up its time. If you binge watched multiple episodes in one sitting you wouldn't really notice it wasn't just one single, much longer, episode.

Other shows with serial plots have episodes with some central event or conflict that is resolved within the episode. The next episode is a continuation of the story to be sure, but it is a story that advances in discreet steps or stages rather than one long stream.

Basically, if you know inherently where the chapter breaks should be, go with it. If you can't tell, just pick an arbitrary length that feels goods and stop the chapter at the end of the closest scene change.

Ernest Bywater

@Perv Otaku

stop the chapter at the end of the closest scene change.


sadly, many don't cut at the scene change, which is the problem with some. The other issue is when it's a story that just rambles on because they feel they have to hit a word count every so many days and stuff in filler.

Crumbly Writer

@Perv Otaku

Basically, if you know inherently where the chapter breaks should be, go with it. If you can't tell, just pick an arbitrary length that feels goods and stop the chapter at the end of the closest scene change.

First of all, scriptwriting and fiction writing are VERY different creatures. However, many authors on SOL feel like you do (myself included, until recently), in that they try to fit in a certain 'minimal' amount of words. Readers appreciate this, but that shouldn't dictate where you break a story.

The story should always determine where you divide chapters. There are various way you can divide it. You always close at the end of a scene, but you can include multiple scene. For instance, you can include an entire day's activity, rather than a single scene, or if the scenes jump between characters in the same time frame, you could include each of them.

What you don't do is to have a dramatic fight scene, ending in a dramatic cliff-hanger, and then tack on an extra thousand words because you're under your self-imposed minimum.

What's more, you don't end a chapter just because you've reached an arbitrary limit in the middle of a scene. That's just poor craftmanship, and readers will feel cheated.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

What's more, you don't end a chapter just because you've reached an arbitrary limit in the middle of a scene. That's just poor craftmanship, and readers will feel cheated.


More likely readers will feel abused and stop reading the story and make a decision to not read anything else you write.

aubie56

For what it's worth: I seem to write naturally to a 3,000-word chapter. That is what I am comfortable with, and my writing seems to break naturally at that point. I really don't know why, but it seems to take about 3,000-3,200 words to say what is appropriate for a scene. Sometimes, when a scene runs over 3,000 words, there is a natural breaking point so that the scene can continue into the next chapter without an awkward pause. This does sometimes cause a cliffhanger situation, but they are fun for me on occasion. Sometimes I get comments from readers over the cliffhanger, but never a complaint after about eight years of writing and posting to SOL.

Sure, it's self serving, but my feeling is simply to make the chapter as long as it is comfortable for the author, and the reader will forgive the occasional cliffhanger.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@aubie56

Aubie, we've discussed cliffhangers, and you can't avoid them all. The key is to resolve the main conflict in any given chapter, but you can leave any side conflicts for later. For instance, if you have a big fight, as long as you resolve the fight, it's fine. However, the reader may not know what provoked the fight, or find out whether the main characters were hurt or not. But the central conflict of the chapter was 'resolved'.

As I said, I used to pack various story segments on top of each other, to reach a 6,000 word average. I stopped doing that, and the size of my chapters dropped, but not substantially (the upper level chapters dropped). My latest book, though, the chapters have dropped into the 2,000 to 3,000 word length, though I usually start with 6,000 word chapters to set up the story.

aubie56

Again, for what it is worth, I originally went for 3,000-word chapters because that was what I found by going through my wife's collection of Romance novels from Harlequin. I figured that they had to know what they were doing because of the volume of books that they were selling. It took only a very few chapters, something like 3 or 4 before that became the comfortable length for me. Mostly, I have stuck to that since then.

I did try increasing my chapter length to 5,000-6,000 words, but that just didn't work for me, so I went back to 3,000 words.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
richardshagrin
Updated:

On cliffhangers. If you end every chapter, or at least a lot of them, your readers will develop ways to deal with them. The Bobsey Twins books by Laura Lee Hope (a house name of the publisher) had so many of them that when my mom read them to me (I was probably about six) at night, she would quit in the middle of a chapter, so I wouldn't want her to read more to resolve the cliff hanging.

And then there is always the silent protest, to decide not to read that author's stories. If you need more than two per story, likely I won't read either the rest of the story, or any others that might have them. I don't need to one-bomb the story, just remember there isn't any reason to get involved in your plots if you aren't going to play fair with me, the reader.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

On cliffhangers.


Almost every show on television will try to go into every commercial break on a cliffhanger.

richardshagrin

I don't watch television, possibly that is one of the reasons. The cost of the cable service to get TV in my area is another. There was seldom anything I wanted to watch, even when we had cable service, I couldn't justify the price.

Can anyone suggest programs you can't live without on TV?

Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

Can't say that there's anything I couldn't live without on it's own. It's more everything I watch put together that makes it worth it for me.

I have AT&T Uverse for TV/internet (it's broadband internet + TV with the last mile on two twisted pair copper wire hard lines.

I watch almost nothing on broadcast TV. I couldn't easily watch broadcast TV if I wanted to without some form of cable/satellite service. There are no local stations and unfortunately I am half-way between the closest two metros that do. To actually get a usable signal takes a directional tower antenna.

There are a number of reality shows I regularly watch.

FaceOff on Discovery being my favorite.

Another Discovery show I like is Mythbusters.

Late night Saturday into Sunday early morning, Cartoon Network runs a whole string of Japanese Anime cartoon series, most of which are targeted at adult audiences and are quite good. I get a DVR with my service, so time shifting where needed is no problem.

Another issue to look at is how frequently you get new content. Broadcast TV runs a 3-4 month season of new original programming (excluding news and game shows) and you are stuck with re-runs the rest of the year. Most of the cable networks run shorter seasons, but they run 3-4 "seasons" a year, running different shows for each "season" So there is almost always new original content to be found on cable.

Are there any specific genres or types of shows you want to watch. What ever it is, there is probably a cable network dedicated to it.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@richardshagrin


Can anyone suggest programs you can't live without on TV?


Of course I can live without it, but "Modern Family" is a show to watch. And of course sports and the news.

I just bought a new house and got a great new-house-deal from my cable company. Land line with unlimited long distance calls, 100mb Internet, the movie package which includes things like Encore, and every premium movie channel (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, STARZ, etc.) for $139/month. I had to sign a 2-year contract with a $30/mth increase the second year, but it's still a great deal.

shinerdrinker
Updated:

@richardshagrin

My friends think I am a bit a a political nerd in that when anyone visits my home office the TV is usually on 24 news if something newsworthy has actually happened otherwise I watch the ESPN sports-talk programs throughout the day.

However to keep my sanity - all my friends know to not bother me on Monday nights - I am not ashamed to say I enjoy watching the Monday Night Raw. I tell everyone "My soaps are on, leave me alone." Only time that I am not watching wrestling on Mondays is if the Dallas Cowboys happen to be playing.

Joke if you like, but that is a little over three hours every week that I don't have to think!

demonmaster62

@richardshagrin

"Can anyone suggest programs you can't live without on TV?"

For Entertainment; Once Upon A Time.
For Sports; Nascar.
For News; Probably better that I don't say.

Crumbly Writer

@aubie56

Again, for what it is worth, I originally went for 3,000-word chapters because that was what I found by going through my wife's collection of Romance novels from Harlequin. I figured that they had to know what they were doing because of the volume of books that they were selling. It took only a very few chapters, something like 3 or 4 before that became the comfortable length for me. Mostly, I have stuck to that since then.

Aubie, romance was generally recognized as having very short books (ie. quick reads), much like mysteries. I believe that's changed over time, but you may want to consider that. Historical fiction tends to be like Sci-fi, in that the genre supports much longer books (mostly because you have to define your worlds and the times).

Richard, the Bobsey Twins and Hairdy Boys series were written at a time when cliffhangers were common. Most movies, books and magazines featured them, but times changed. Now many of those works are actively mocked, so I'm not sure I'd pattern your writing on those particular children's books. Readers are much more discerning nowadays, and the cost of media has changed how it's consumed.

DS, the mini-cliffhangers fit into my categorization of cliffhangers. As long as the current conflict (ie. the detective being grabbed from behind), it's OK to prologue the other, continuing conflicts. Those are OK, and readers don't have to wait long, just fast-forward past the annoying commercials. However, doing it constantly, never resolving the essential conflicts, taking between a week or months until the immediate resolutions, can be fatal to your stories..again, it's a useful tool in a writer's toolbox, but you don't want to rely on it.. Instead, it's best to pick and choose which scenes would benefit the most from using a cliffhanger..

Richard, concerning TV shows, I'm more interested in checking the 'hot shows' on cable to see what types of storytelling is currently trending, and how the media is representing various trends (like gays and transsexuals). Otherwise I mostly watch the mindless comedies as a way of turning off my mind so I can recharge for a few hours. (I also use it as background noise to counter the sound of other TVs and radios in my house.)

Ernest Bywater

@richardshagrin

Can anyone suggest programs you can't live without on TV?


Definitely not. I've not watched a live television program for several years. Have watched a couple of documentaries someone recorded and suggest I'd enjoy, but that's it. I've not been inside a picture theatre for over fifteen years, either. Not seen anything advertised that's worth the cost of the ticket.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Definitely not. I've not watched a live television program for several years. Have watched a couple of documentaries someone recorded and suggest I'd enjoy, but that's it. I've not been inside a picture theatre for over fifteen years, either. Not seen anything advertised that's worth the cost of the ticket.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming "Martian" and "Stonewall", opening later. However, I've heard that "The Martian" is a 'disappointment for those who've read the book' (isn't that always the case!). I'm also prepared to be disappointed by Stonewall, finding the true histories so compelling, I'm afraid to watch a fictional presentation..

I was also surprised at how enjoyable "The Intern" was.

Update: I stopped by Barnes & Nobles today, and I was correct. Romance books are Much longer than they used to be, so my comments on that topic are probably outdated.

Perv Otaku

@Crumbly Writer

First of all, scriptwriting and fiction writing are VERY different creatures. However, many authors on SOL feel like you do (myself included, until recently), in that they try to fit in a certain 'minimal' amount of words. Readers appreciate this, but that shouldn't dictate where you break a story.

The story should always determine where you divide chapters. There are various way you can divide it. You always close at the end of a scene, but you can include multiple scene. For instance, you can include an entire day's activity, rather than a single scene, or if the scenes jump between characters in the same time frame, you could include each of them.

What you don't do is to have a dramatic fight scene, ending in a dramatic cliff-hanger, and then tack on an extra thousand words because you're under your self-imposed minimum.

What's more, you don't end a chapter just because you've reached an arbitrary limit in the middle of a scene. That's just poor craftmanship, and readers will feel cheated.


You seem to have missed my point, or variously interpreted my words in the direct opposite of the intention.

Script writing certainly is fiction. I guess you meant it's different from prose? I don't disagree, I was just using analogy.

If there's no obvious natural break points in the flow of action, pick an arbitrary length and go with that. I don't mean write until you get to that length, I refer only to decision making in breaking up an existing much longer text into smaller sections. Of course you don't break in the middle of a scene, I distinctly did not say that.

In television shows where episodes are distinct stories yet also fit together in a larger plot sequence, the writers cram each story into the required amount of time. In prose the length is of course more fluid, but if the story pacing follows a similar pattern then the chapter breaks become obvious, like the breaks between TV episodes.

Let's say you have five scenes that distinctly relate to each other, but relate less so to the scenes before and after. That's your chapter right there. If you have twenty scenes that seem to all relate to each other equally but taken together are way too long, you may decide to break them up into an arbitrary number of chapters, probably three to five.

Chapters will hopefully all be about the same length as each other, but if the story structure has it end up that a couple of chapters are distinctly longer or shorter than the rest, that's fine too.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Perv Otaku

Chapters will hopefully all be about the same length as each other


Why?

I hear that a lot and don't understand it.

Replies:   Perv Otaku
aubie56

I like for the chapters in a story I am reading to be about the same length. That tells me how much time I have to budget to read a chapter without having to look it up. I appreciate the convenience.

sejintenej

@aubie56

I like for the chapters in a story I am reading to be about the same length. That tells me how much time I have to budget to read a chapter without having to look it up.

I see that as an ideal but some authors (when appropriate) write in their blog that the chapter is short; I can live with that as being an exception. I am not keen on those "chapters" which go into four or five separate pages - there is normally an available cut off somewhere in the middle which could cause an extra chapter or three.
Just a personal thing....

tppm

IMHO chapters should be as long, or as short, as they need to be to convey the sub-story of the chapter. That could be one word (Vonnegut's done that) or 10,000.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Chris Podhola

@Wild Willie

There's a posting on another thread (Romance or Erotica by Lumpy) by Chris Podhola that states: "I ask this because many readers might be intimidated by story that long."


This is an interesting thread and it is essential to remember Switch's clarification of this statement.

My advice to this author was based on genre as Switch clarified later in the thread. While it is okay for some genres to write longer works (The Stand by Stephen King for example approached 600k (unabridged)), and got away with it. I seriously doubt Harlequin would ever publish a steamy romance of that length ... ever.

Platform also matters too, I think. If you are talking about SOL and your story or publishing is limited to SOL, I think there are advantages to exceeding the 80k limit mentioned and I don't think it's problematic. Especially if you're posting the chapters in serial (although I do recommend following the tips of many posts within this thread of offering at least 5k at a time, even if it is multiple chapters per posting).

Ultimately, the important thing is to know your market. If you are publishing in the paid market, follow the rules of the market you write in. If you don't know, research it. Go to bookstores and ask questions. If you are writing sci/fi or fantasy, by all means, write away. Just make sure that what your are writing fits the taste buds of your market and if you end up with a tome that is 200k, so be it. But if you are writing romance, or erotica and your rough draft starts to hover around the 80k mark, start figuring out how to close that part of the story. You are nearing your limit. You can go over it somewhat, but start thinking about how to bring closure to that part of the story and make your work a series. They give those recommendations for a reason and market tolerances do vary.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@tppm


IMHO chapters should be as long, or as short, as they need to be to convey the sub-story of the chapter. That could be one word (Vonnegut's done that) or 10,000.


Thank you. I agree 100%. I think people are caught up in the "rules" of traditionally published genre novels. That is:

Length = # of words for that genre / by the number of chapters in a typical novel = number of words per chapter.

I hear that all the time from the published authors on wattpad (which turns out to be 2500-3000 word chapters). Not for me. No artificial breaks to keep a consistent chapter length. No padding to keep them consistent.

I may combine some small scenes within a chapter, but that's as far as I go.

Replies:   anim8ed
anim8ed

@Switch Blayde

I also agree that the story chapters should be what they need to be to tell the story. A posting chapter can contain multiple story chapters. How large to make a posting chapter is a different question than how large to make a story chapter.

As a reader I take what I can get. I prefer to have the whole story available so that I can read as much or as little at a time as I want. Barring that the more frequent the posting the smaller the chapters need to be to prevent annoyance. Number 7 wrote relatively short chapters but posted daily so there was always new material available. The weekly posters have larger offerings that will keep you interested until the next week.

Those that have infrequent postings or post short chapters infrequently often become relegated to my 'read when complete' pile. For myself, the reputation of the author will decide if I read it as it posts or wait till it is complete. All these are personal choices as I hate having to read back just to figure out what is happening in the story because it has been so long since it updated.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@anim8ed

Number 7 wrote relatively short chapters but posted daily so there was always new material available.


I need to clarify something. My stories don't take into account online posting, even when I post them to SOL. I write the whole story before posting any of it. When I finally post it, if I have short chapters I post more than one at a time.

So the chapter length is not a factor when I write. It is when I post.

Crumbly Writer

@aubie56

I like for the chapters in a story I am reading to be about the same length. That tells me how much time I have to budget to read a chapter without having to look it up. I appreciate the convenience.

That's how I used to approach it, aiming to give my SOL readers the most 'bang for their buck' for each chapter. But I've since migrated to differing sized chapters. If the action is fast and furious, I'll write short chapters, since a lot happens in fewer words (say only 2,000 words). If I'm describing details (like how a particular technology works), I'll write a longer chapter (as much as 10,000 words). My initial chapters tend to be longer, as I introduce characters, situations and conflicts (though shorter, faster chapters would probably sell the story better). Once those details are covered, the chapter lengths slide back to normal.

When I run into trouble is when I try to describe everything that happens in a given day, or at a give time. Then there's an artificial time frame imposed by the story, and it's difficult pacing it out.

Perv, I didn't mean to put any words in your mouth, but that's what I'd thought you were saying. However, I agree with Switch in that I don't think book chapters should all be the same length. Different types of chapters should fit into distinct categories. Likewise, when I read (a print book), I'll often look at the page length of the chapter before committing to reading it before I go to bed. That's a longstanding reading habit of mine.

Chris, as I mentioned in the other thread, that was my understanding about the Romance genre (that they prefer fast reads that get them to the romantic ending quicker), but I researched it later and discovered my info. was dated. Most Romance books found in book stores are now fairly sizeable, which means Indie books will tend to be even larger, since they're unconstrained by paper costs.

By the way, I agree with Switch. I now write book chapters, and will post multiple chapters to reach my magic SOL posting size of 5,000 to 6,000 words. (If you go over 8,000 or 10,000, I forget which, it breaks into multiple SOL pages!)

Replies:   Dominion's Son
Dominion's Son
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


If you go over 8,000 or 10,000, I forget which, it breaks into multiple SOL pages!


Neither actually. The limit where they automatically paginate is 58,000 characters. This will be ~12,000 words, but the actual word count for the cut off will vary.

http://storiesonline.net/author/posting_guidelines.php

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Dominion's Son


but the actual word count for the cut off will vary.


correct, because the spaces and grammatical marks count as characters as well.

I write my chapters to be as long as they need to be, and when posting to SOL I try to locate a chapter break around the 50,000 to 55,000 print character mark so I give the readers a decent read for the part posted.

edit to fix typo picked up by richardshagrin. I typically write stories to the 50,000 to 55,000 word mark so it's automatic to use the word word.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

50,000 words? That's almost a short novel. Maybe characters? Like letters and punctuation. Not like printing a phone book, with lots of names on every page, of characters. Not even War and Peace has 50,000 character names. It just seems that way.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

Not even War and Peace has 50,000 character names. It just seems that way.

I've never gone that far, but my six book "Catalyst" series had over 100 different named characters! (It's a good time to provide a character list.)

richardshagrin

Based on my experience as a reader, the more characters in a story, the harder it is to keep track of what is going on, and who is doing what to whom. One of the problems with harem stories, particularly when a new harem girl is introduced every chapter, is to keep track of her characteristics. Some authors help out with alphabetical order names (Ann, Betty, Candy, Dolly, etc.) However by the time they get to Zenobia I can't remember hair color, height, breast size, or almost anything else about the vast majority.

It might be CRS syndrome, Alzheimer's, or old-timers memory. There are situations where you need a lot of characters, military stories particularly, unless they are about a squad or less. But if you can keep the numbers down your readers will be happier. And use names that are easier to recognize. Those Russian names in War and Peace are brutal.

Replies:   El_Sol  docholladay
El_Sol

@richardshagrin

I actually separate 'harem' writers by the model they use... The Five Girl Harem model or the Hundred Girl Harem Model.

For my stories, I prefer a variation of the Five Girl Model ... At Five, One Girl Enters, One Girl Leaves.

docholladay

@richardshagrin

Even in a war or an active battle situation, most of the characters are just background (unnamed). The only ones that have to be considered are the characters in use for the story, main character and the appropriate interactive characters. All the rest are like geography, there in the background for atmosphere or whatever term is correct.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

Even in a war or an active battle situation, most of the characters are just background (unnamed). The only ones that have to be considered are the characters in use for the story, main character and the appropriate interactive characters. All the rest are like geography, there in the background for atmosphere or whatever term is correct.

I'd discussed this before (on the old forum) for one of my stories, where I asked 'at what point do you name characters'. I found that, as a chapter developed, my background characters started taking up more and more space. After about the third comment, aided by physical descriptions, I found I had to give them a name. However, I don't add them to a 'Cast of Characters' (i.e. Cast List), unless they're in more than a single chapter.

"Catalyst", with over 100 characters, was an exception to the rules. Although I typically have large casts, that was about one man starting a world-side movement, and so it was about his personally connecting to thousands of people. In that case, mentioning one hundred doesn't seem as unreasonable. Each of those were 'named' because they had a significant contribution, even if they didn't remain in the story for long (none of the cast lists list anywhere near 100 characters, as I only included those in each book).

By the way, the proper phrase for 'background characters' is "nonessential".

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

My reference of background characters means like the other customers in a restaurant or bar or grocery story. They are there but since there probably isn't any direct interaction between them and the story's characters all they are doing is making the scene realistic.

Interactive characters are different however since in some form those actually interact with the characters.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

My reference of background characters means like the other customers in a restaurant or bar or grocery story. They are there but since there probably isn't any direct interaction between them and the story's characters all they are doing is making the scene realistic.

Interactive characters are different however since in some form those actually interact with the characters.

I guess I break it into: Unnamed characters, who don't do enough to justify naming them; Named characters, those important enough to be named but who aren't a consistent part of the story (i.e. cannon fodder), secondary characters, who are central to the story but don't lead it), and a couple lead characters. See, even my lists of character classes are longer than most authors!

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Most Authors range from five feet to a little over six feet. Your lists of character classes are much shorter than that. Although all your characters taken together have lots more feet than most authors. Than centipedes.

Perv Otaku

@Switch Blayde

Why?

I hear that a lot and don't understand it.

Convenience, mostly. Probably a bit tradition as well. Note I have never called this a hard and fast rule, just a general trend.

You don't really see novels where there are ten 5-page chapters and one 100-page chapter. But it wouldn't be shocking for a novel to have two or three chapters that are twice as long as the other chapters. Sometimes you see a chapter as short as a page, though usually for some specific dramatic impact.

Let's put it this way. Back in the days of printed encyclopedias, the volumes were usually divided by letters. You have the L volume, the M volume, the N volume. But the S volume would be far too long, so it got split up, while the W, X, Y, and Z volumes would be too short, so they got joined together. Nobody worried that the L volume might be 50 pages shorter or longer than the M volume, but nobody wanted a volume that was more than double or less than half the size of the others. In prose fiction you have more leeway than that if you want to use it, but unless you are working with a story that has clear thematic or timeline breaks between chapters, generally length is what's used.

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