Proliferation of Characters

I’m beginning revision work on Salsa Dancing today. After reading an article about the invasion of characters, I have some thinking to do.

As I write, I allow free-reign (which can sometimes become a free rain) to my imagination and thought processes. This gives me the freedom to explore direction, characterization and the story itself. As I’ve mentioned before, my writing is organic – growing as it will from whatever nourishment I have to offer. Reading some of my early drafts can be a painful experience.

Revision gives me an opportunity to scrape away the rough and discover what I am really talking about. In Salsa, the underlying impetus for the story was a personal encounter with endocrine cycle dysfunction.

Of course, for this, there had to be a doctor and one leads to at least four others. There has to be a love interest. One leads to five. And family: count twenty-plus inclusive of both sides. Friends? Sufficient to needs: three for each partner and enemies? Also three for each. We have already reached 43 participants.

What is the lowest count of characters you’ve written into a novel? The highest?

How do you keep track of these people and their eye-color? Have you read a book where a character morphs physically without a paranormal explanation?

I highlight physical details in the manuscript when I come across them while transcribing. Also, separate pages in the notebook for characters’  ages, hair color, personal habits. Spreadsheets are useful too.

For Salsa, so many events take place over the period of the novel, I built a calendar and time-line to keep track of crucial dates.  This became a project management issue – as complicated at the construction of the hotel-conference center in the novel.

I think my love of 19th century literature and George Eliot’s novels have led me down their garden path!

Also on this subject...


  1. Leigh, glad to see you’re up to your eyeballs in revisions. Is this the book which recently sold? Or was that a diff. title?
    I can no longer remember the exact count, but my 3rd novel ms. (at 163,000 wds) has tons of characters. Over a half dozen ‘major’ characters, I guess another 20 ‘good guys’ and about that many bad guys. And maybe another dozen folks who appear briefly (as well as some who are mentioned but don’t actually appear).
    It made my head swim. For the longest set of scenes (related to a ‘battle’ of sorts), I had maps of the area, charts indicating what had happened to whom and where they were at the moment, and other devices to keep track.
    It was quite literally exhausting.
    And, like some of yours, my writing is ‘organic’ so I seldom knew what surprises any of those numerous characters might come up with.

    1. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who loves a cast of characters, Jeff. Salsa is the novel I wrote just before Wait a Lonely Lifetime – my soon-to-be published novel. While I was perplexed about the depth and breadth of Salsa, Wait a Lonely Lifetime was circumspect in comparison. Besides the slight proliferation of Sylviana’s many relations in Firenze, I kept Wait to under 15 who had speaking parts of any note. Well within manageability.
      Battles are like parties – or so one of my professors warned his class of novice writers. Don’t go there. I’ve just been reading a history of one battle in Gettysburg. Even with maps and photos as well as visiting the site, my capacity for envisioning the events was undone.
      I like characters who don’t appear, just like politicians, ever-present but no substance.
      I’ve just interviewed another writer who likes surprises. I’ll let you know about Stone Wallace and his new book, The Last Outlaw, in a few weeks.
      Thanks for visiting!

  2. “Battles are like parties — don’t go.”
    Ha. good advice. However in the case of my un-pubbed novel, the battle scene is the key to the entire novel. Yet it’s not what some might imagine. I can’t say much more without giving away my story.

    1. I don’t follow that advice either. Don’t write too many battle scenes but some parties, family gatherings etc. I’ll look forward to hearing more about this new novel you’re working on.