How do you write a book with multiple main characters?
Most novels have a single protagonist and narrate events from this character’s personal perspective.
This post will provide guidance on how to write a novel with multiple main characters and what techniques you can employ to ensure your story remains coherent.
As a general rule, a novel with multiple characters must present a balanced approach to the part they play in the plot. Each character should be very different, sometimes complementing the other main characters and other times antagonistic to the other characters. Actions and speech should be different and distinctive.
For example, the Justice League of America has a diverse pool of members. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash are all involved in a variety of superhero adventures.
Despite the fact that they have their own series and books separate from each other, all their stories revolve around them as a group.
Each writer has his/her own vision of the League’s dynamics and this is evident in how each writer creates unique characters with individual personalities for each member.
However, it is critical to have a clear understanding of your character’s traits so you can avoid blending their personalities together as you write them as individuals and as members of a team.
Video – How to write multiple main characters
How do you write multiple characters?
1. What is a Novel?
A novel is typically written in prose, and it usually tells a story of some person or people who may be real or fictional, often with the intention of providing entertainment to the reader through reading someone else’s life experience(s).
It can also represent a true story so it can be used for educational purposes as well as recreational ones, which would be considered informational text rather than fiction per se.
The story is normally well defined but can be made as simple as a short story to as complex as a multi-volume novel. As the title states, this article will concentrate on using multiple main characters in a novel.
2. Tips for Writing with Multiple Main Characters
The best way to write with multiple main characters is to start with one and allow them all to grow and develop throughout your novel and take turns for chapters or issues of the book.
By doing this you will be able to keep each character realistic and authentic, and they can’t become too much alike or an All-Star Team for that matter because then they won’t stand out from each other or even be able to understand why they are there.
The more characters that are added into the story, the harder your chances of keeping them separate and unique. Try keeping at least two main characters per chapter, for example 6-10 chapters in 6-10 different issues or chapters.
3. Writing with Multiple Main Characters in Action
The primary character in a novel is usually very well defined but what if you have multiple main characters? Each main character should have a specific purpose in the plot and express their own personality even though they may be similar to the other main characters.
They also should have their own conflict within themselves, so if they become too similar they can become annoying and will bog down your plotline. For example, if you have six main characters you should consider having four of them having different genders, race, age, etc.
This way none of them are too close to any other characters. Someone should be the focal character in each chapter or issue depending on what stage of your story it is.
For example, there should be one primary character in Acts 1 & 2, one secondary character in Acts 1 & 2 and one other main character should be introduced in Act 3 and throughout Act 4 but not dominate the story like the main characters did throughout Acts 1 & 2.
By doing this you will ensure everyone has a role and there is no unnecessary confusion to your readers.
4. First Person Narrator vs Third Person Narrator For Multiple Characters
First person narration can be a great way to write with multiple main characters in a novel because it allows you to have each character for a chapter or issue.
The narrator can be the main character in each chapter or issue, or maybe a secondary character. This gives you the ability to view their actions through their eyes and maybe even include flashbacks of what happened to them at another point of time so they can tell the story again.
However, remember that if you do this you cannot use your first person narrator throughout the entire story because you will lose track of who is who. This is a great way to incorporate a narrator for each of the main characters throughout the entire story.
How many main characters does the average novel have?
5. Crafting Multiple Characters
Creating your characters is one of the greatest challenges when writing with multiple main characters because you have to make sure that you get all their personality traits and memories across.
Not only that, but if their personalities are too different from each other then they will become different from each other in your readers mind and they won’t be able to connect with them like you had hoped in your plotline.
Some tips to keep these characters realistic and alive to your readers is to make sure they have human emotions and respect for others.
6. Multiple Character Development
Character development should be number one on the list for writing with multiple main characters because if you don’t get this right then it can break your story and it will be hard to know who is who in the end.
This should be how you write with multiple main characters, whether all of them are different from each other or even similar because different makes each character feel real and unique.
Make sure you don’t force them into situations that they didn’t choose, but if their situation happens then maybe they did choose. If you can include character development for each character then you will be able to keep them alive throughout the entire story.
Some tips are to have each character have a unique background, so they have different lives, families, friends or even their own ideas of what is right and wrong.
This will allow them to grow throughout the novel so people will understand how they feel about each situation.
7. Keeping Multiple Characters Realistic Thoughout the Novel
Keeping track of them all! This is one of the most important things when writing with multiple main characters because it can be easy to lose track of who is who or what is happening in the story.
The best way to keep track of what is happening with each character is to write a simple page or two on each of them on your outline that will tell you everything about them. You can even do this for secondary characters as well.
This way you will be able to keep track of what they are up too and where they are at any given time, and if your plotline changes then all you have to do is rewrite them, which will help both the plotline and the characters grow even more like real people instead of one dimensional caricatures.
8. Tips on Writing with Multiple Main Characters in Action Scenes
Mixing up your characters is a very good way to keep them alive and interesting to your readers.
Maybe you can have one main character be a child and one a parent, or two who are very similar but from different places or possibly even from different races with one being the other’s best friend.
This will help you keep track of who is who and it will also help bring depth to each character. It also will help you keep things more realistic because people are not all the same so mixing it up with different personalities will make your novel more interesting.
9. Keeping Track of Multiple Characters!
One of the best ways to keep track of who is who is to have each character have a story separate from the others, but still connected to the plotline and other characters in your story.
For example, if you have three main characters and they all start separate from each other and one ends up together after a while, or maybe even one dies and another doesn’t like how his friends treated him, then that character could be connected with one of the other two characters through their issues.
This way you can keep track of who is who and you can get the most out of each character in your story. This is an awesome way to write with multiple main characters because it allows you to include more than one plotline in your story and it will also give extra depth to your story instead of just having one main plotline.
Can you have multiple main characters in a novel?
Yes, absolutely! You can write a novel with multiple main characters. The best way is to decide on which character’s point of view (POV) you want to write from. This will not only give your book a specific voice, but it will also help develop the characters and give them depth.
How authors get away with having multiple main characters?
How to create a multiple character profile:
STEP ONE: Name and Appearance
Choose a name and an image for your character. A name can be very revealing in how it describes the person and what characteristics they may have based on the meaning.
Also consider how they look, figure out hair color, eye color, height etc. and think about the details and how it will come out in your story. The appearance of a character can be very telling and can reveal so much about what you think of the person, their personality and even how they view other people
STEP TWO: Personality and Character Traits
Now that you have the name and looks, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of who this person is. What makes them tick? What are their beliefs, their habits, what motivates them?
Write down several detailed traits regarding each character. Then put them all together for your readers to see how these characters are similar or different from each other.
If you are writing a novel about a team of superheros then it is important that they are all different in their personalities.
STEP THREE: Background
It’s also important to be aware of who your character was before they met the other main characters. What were the circumstances that brought them to this point, where they are the glue that holds the story together?
If you have already created several main characters it can be another beneficial to write out their background histories for each so you can see how they are similar, different, and why they might form a team.
How many main characters is too many in a novel?
When it comes to having many characters in a novel, there can be a fine line between having enough and having too many. Some authors think that the more characters you have, the better your story will be.
However, based on what we know now about storytelling based on Aristotle’s Poetics, this is not the case.
When it comes to having too many characters in a story, that is when there are so many that they begin to conflict with each other as well as overshadow the main point of the story; which we all know is the hero and their journey throughout it.
List of novels with multiple main characters
Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper
Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood
William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help
George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series
The most important character in a story is called the “protagonist” and the rest of the characters are referred to as “side characters.” It is important to know who is going to be an antagonist in your novel so you will know where they fit in and what role they will play.
How do some authors get away with having multiple main characters?
There are a few ways that authors have been able to work around the issue of having too many main characters in a novel.
One way they have been able to do this is by choosing a favorite instead of writing from all of the viewpoints. Some people just want one although that isn’t always ideal because it can feel like you are not hearing from all characters.
How many characters should a good novel have?
The number of characters that a good novel has does not really matter. Most of the time, no more than three main characters and six side ones is enough for a satisfying read since you already get to experience their thought processes and what is going on in their head.
If it feels like too many then the story is not compelling or interesting enough and it will lose steam.
How many POVS is too many?
When it comes to point of views, you can have two, but the most common number is one. Having two POVs is not that common because it can get confusing for the reader to follow who they are reading about.
It is always best if you know which character will be your narrator and stick to their point of view since it will affect how you write out your story.
How do you make multiple main characters stand out?
Creating a colorful cast of characters takes practice and planning. Every main character must stand out in some way, whether they are an old lady or orphaned child on the street. It’s important to make every character distinct in appearance, background or behavior.
Which novel has most characters?
A novel with the most characters is J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, which has a cast of 872 speaking characters and many more unnamed ones.
How many characters is the average novel?
The number of characters in a novel is subjective and depends on what kind of novel it is. The typical mainstream novel has a cast of three to four.
A typical science fiction or fantasy novel will have a cast ranging from two to six, while crime stories usually have many more characters, from ten to twenty.
Useful resources for multiple character development in novels: