Getting a Little Crowded…

So I’m in the process of a re-write of my novel and I’ve noticed how different the story is compared to a year ago when I thought the story was finished.  The plot is deeper, the characters can be more easily related to, hints and clues to the overall story are being put here and there.  I’ve also given minor characters some bigger roles.  All of these changes are helping my story become bigger, better, and stronger.

As I was writing the other day, though, I came upon a bit of a puzzle.  I have a new character who will *eventually* become a big part of the story (this is a planned series so said character was supposed to show up somewhere towards the latter part).  But with the plot going through some major changes, I began to debate with myself-do I want to introduce this character a little earlier than planned?

Normally this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but I’ve got more than one or two main characters.  And if I introduce the new character now, I worry whether it may be too many new names and side-stories for my readers to keep track with.

Recently, my Mom and I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  I was going into the film already familiar with the books and lore while my mom was going into the film as a casual movie-goer.  Throughout the film, I cheered with the appearance of Beorn, Thranduil, Bard, and Smaug, while my mom constantly asked questions.

“Who’s Thorin?”

“Which one was Smaug?”

At the end of the film, I found myself having to explain the story all over again because my mom had trouble following all of the characters and sub-plots.  This doesn’t mean that The Desolation of Smaug was a bad movie (it was actually quite good, at least in my opinion), nor does it mean my mom can’t follow a story line.  It just means that for people who are unfamiliar with Middle Earth, all those characters and subplots may make them feel lost when jumping into the middle of the story with no background knowledge.

After seeing my mom’s experience, it made me start questioning on whether adding more characters to my story was a good decision or a bad one.  Grant it, what I’m writing is nowhere near the scale of Lord of the Rings, but it got me thinking as to whether there is a thing such as too many characters.  Is it possible to have your story too detailed or too deep?

I may not ever know the answer to that question.  I often wonder if there really is one.  It may just depend on the story.  Lord of the Rings, in its vast lore, has many characters that an entire novel can hold just their names, and yet it’s hugely successful.  There have been other stories that have been met with failure because of “too much, too soon.”  But whether full or light on characters, maybe it’s not just the number that is important, but the quality.  Sure, Tolkien had many characters, but they had a high quality about them.  They were exciting, memorable, and unique.  Each reader (or viewer) could find a character they could relate to.

So instead of asking whether I can remember all of my characters, maybe I should ask if I have characters worth remembering?