So, I have an issue with my characters. It seems I attempt to make everyone that exists in my world relevant somehow. I try to make them more integral to the plot than they need to be. Then, once I get that under control, the characters that do matter have a lot of pages devoted to their backstories. I just hate reading characters that have no motivation or are not really fleshed out. That said, how do I know when it’s too much? Anyone else have this problem?
The same effect you get out of standing in the middle of a crowd: when too many voices are speaking and you can’t really make anything out, or everything gets too confusing.
I had to cut down on my characters too literally drop them, because there were too many and I had to rethink of the whole plot and try to figure out if they were really necessary. With me, how it worked was thinking of it as a path: they’re in point A and need to reach point B. There is never just one alternative. the challenge is to try and figure out the different paths.
If you don’t want to drop characters, accept to let some information go as you write. It’s good to have them fully fleshed out, but let the story flow as naturally as you can. The details of who they are should pop out in the flow of the story. Again, like standing in a crowd: you try to listen only to what is relevant, and you erase the voices that are there just… making too much noise. At one point, it will sound really appealing to say ‘damn, I should have mentioned this one particular thing about their past’, but if at no point it became relevant, don’t fall prey to the temptation! To me, this isn’t something that comes straight away. It’s actually a trial and error thing (and man, so many rewrites ). I hope this helps, in some way!
Hard to say, I think it has to do with case by case. I think it’s good that you have a lot more than you need figured out, sometimes it’s good to have that even if it’s never seen by the readers.
I can see where it is hard to discern what to include and what not to include. I feel like maybe go through the bare bones of what is needed to be revealed, like for the plot and the major characters (Main character, immediate family/friends, significant other (if applicable), and villain (if applicable)) and then go from there, considering the extent of a backstory you need for the “next level” of characters (for example, relatives, co-workers, evil minions, etc).
I would obviously avoid going too much in depth with the “extras” like in the movies. (ie. hot dog cart seller, doorman, janitor, etc) unless they are the “underdog” in the story I guess. And this is just in general, there are probably exceptions. Idk if this helped, but that’s what I’d do, anyway.
There are plot-based writers and there are character-based writers. I’m plot. You’re character. Focus on the plot and make the characters depend on it, that’s really the trick.
The plot has a problem (and an MC who suffers it). Let’s say the MC is a girl who’s in love with a boy who doesn’t see her. Now you can write the story around the character: she’s shy and clumsy, he’s a leader, captain of the team that takes all his time. Or you can write the characters around the story: we need conflict and fun, so when we make her clumsy, it makes great scenes, and when we make her shy and him a confident leader, we can put her into trouble and make him rescue her…
So it’s the plot, the story, that gives motivation to the characters, and they don’t need backstory at all because you don’t need to tell why she’s shy (her dominant parents) or how he became captain of the team. The same can be said about the sidekicks: she has a friend that likes to keep her shy because she has an interest in the boy too (motivation starts the character) and he has a teammate who’s clumsy too so he’ll understand better how she thinks and how to help her (again, the characters are formed by what makes the story better).
Both plot-driven and character-driven writers are wrong: the right way is to make the story and the characters fit each other, and that requires working from both sides. Your character-side is already there. All you need is to start with a great plot and work it out.
Did this help?
First of, there isn’t really any “rule” for this. That’s why beta readers and such are so important and useful. They’ll know when too much is too much.
The other thing is about how you convey your information. Personally, I think it’s more likely to become a problem if you do it all in one place. If it’s distributed across your story, it’s less likely to be a problem, even if there’s a lot of it.
My personal rule of thumb (with all sorts of exceptions obviously…) to any sort of information is that it should be conveyed in at most two paragraphs. No matter how important I think it is, if you need three paragraphs it’s definitely time to think about whether the information can’t be conveyed in a better way.
For example, I can go on and on how the heroine hates that she’s small. Write a paragraph describing her (the facts, basically), a second how she’s tiny and that bothers her (internal conflict of sorts), and a third maybe about some past examples of why and how exactly it annoys her (external expression of the conflict).
Bit of a weird example (well, it’s hard to come up with something randomly ^^;), but reasonable enough. But anyway, three paragraphs -> rule of thumb; too much info dumping. Think about whether there isn’t a scene where she needs to gather something from high up. Or talk to someone who is taller than her. Show her issues there. And suddenly I don’t need the extra paragraphs anymore, and I can convey it in small pieces throughout the story, so nobody gets overwhelmed by it. And it will feel organically added into the plot, and not as some sort of tacked on “look how my heroine isn’t perfect” tokenism and info dumping on that of that.
Ask yourself: Do the readers need to know this backstory in order to understand the story? If the answer is no, then cut it.
It’s important for YOU to know the backstory. That helps you understand why they make the choices they make, why they want what they want.
It’s not necessary for readers to know everything about your world and your characters just because you do. We need to know what’s pertinent.
Hone it down. Focus on the story (main plot line) and the protagonist. Then build up from there.
Wow, I’ve been super busy and haven’t been on in a while, so I apologize if I seemed ungrateful. All of you have given me great advice! I do try to make the machinations organic, instead if explaining everything. Part of the problem I seem to have is trying to make everyone relevant, give everyone a name, I suppose. It’s hard having yo decide sometimes that not every character iv3 dreamed up needs an intrinsic purpose. The second part of that issue is finding a good way to write them out, even if it’s only temporary. Or, I have a character that will play a huge part in a second book, but not so much in this one-though his presence needs to be felt. I’ve done something with him where he does these great deeds and other characters catch snippets of it on the news or the radio, my amateur attempt at being organic lol! Thank you all for the help, it will come in handy for my second draft!
As you already noticed: you can write and learn during the process (and start again, doing a better job), or you can think it over before you start (and saving yourself the time and training of the first attempt). Both are roads that lead you to become a better writer.
The shortest answer to your question “when is enough too much?” is: when you don’t like the story you wrote, when you get the feeling “I can do better than this”. Like @Sleepy_Ish says: that’s why beta readers are important, and you’re the first and the best beta reader your story can get.
One of my favourite lines is: “you’re writing a story, not a phone book”.