Readers can only keep track of so many characters in a novel. Too many minor characters can make readers confused and disengaged.
Write a list of your characters and consider them all carefully. Do they really contribute to your purpose? Do some of them only appear briefly? Can you cut them out? Can you combine some characters into one?
If you make a passing reference to an insignificant character, could you simply refer to them by their role or physical description (‘the bus driver’ or ‘the red-haired child’) instead of naming them? When you give a name, readers might expect the character will be important, make an effort to remember them, and be disappointed. Don’t make your readers work too hard; you might turn them away.
Too many characters is often a problem in memoirs and in stories (true or fictionalised) taken from real life. Ditching characters is hard to do, but sometimes it can really give your book the lift it needs.
About this blog
Through my experience as an editor, a reader and a book reviewer, I’ve noticed that some writing faults keep just popping up again and again. As an author, I’m especially aware of those writing crimes that I’m frequently tempted to commit myself. This series of brief tips addresses the common writing problems that I’ve encountered. Following them will help make your writing clear, accurate and stylish.