The Autistic Writer: Number of Characters

I recently DNFed (“did not finish) a popular epic length novel. There were multiple reasons I gave up on it. One was the story had far too many characters.

There were about 20 named characters, and four or five main characters each with their own narrative. There was even a character chart at the front of the book. I respect the addition, but it shouldn’t have been required in the first place. Not only did I get weary of flipping to the chart, I didn’t enjoy “dealing” with that many people to begin with.

And to think there are novels with dozens of characters that don’t even provide a chart!

In life, I can’t enjoy meeting and interacting with a large number of strangers at one time. There are always exceptions, but as a rule my Autistic brain wants to engage with a modest amount of people to a deeper degree. It tunes or burns out if I have to actively converse with more than about five new people at once.

Reading new fiction is very much like meeting new people for me. It’s much more difficult to sympathize with or even enjoy the company of a legion of different characters. So I avoid writing entire armies.

I choose this not only in solidarity with my ideal reader, but because I want to spend quality time with the main characters I create. I want to get to know them better. If I had a cast of thousands in my next novel, I’d either have to spent extra time on each one, making for my own epic-length novel, or worse leave the characters flat  and unexamined in order to save time.

Thus far, only my very first novel goes so far as to offer multiple points of view. The time may come when I adopt that format again. What I won’t do is fill a stadium with characters that even I, the Autistic author, can’t keep track of.


  1. CK1

    So true! Too many characters in a story does make it harder to enjoy.

    • One of the more difficult things for me to forgive in a novel.

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