Memoir Tip #121: Choosing Who To Include

In memoir our characters are real people which means that sometimes it is difficult to decide who to include and who to leave out. Our emotional ties to the people in our lives often makes the task even more difficult because we don’t want to put in negative or embarrassing things about those we love and we don’t want to leave out those we love. For that reason, characters and their plot lines can be another stumbling block in first drafts. Some authors tend to have too few characters and plot lines while others have too many. There is no correct, or standard, number of characters and plot lines that will always work because each story is unique. There is, however, a specific number that works perfectly for each story. Unfortunately you will need to figure out what that number is as you write and revise. Saying that, keep these things in mind:

  1. Your story cannot and should not be single focused on one character and one plot line. Sure the character may be your main protagonist and he/she may want one thing, but life is still happening around them, which means you need to incorporate the other aspects of their life into the story in order for it to feel realistic to your readers. Just keep in mind that the other aspects of life you include should aid the main plot by adding complications that prevent or delay the protagonist from reaching their goal.
  2. Your character cannot and should not be so isolated from other people that they have no interactions. Like the single focused character and plot line, an isolated character is not realistic. It is possible that they only have a few close interactions, but in life people are forced to interact with people. Just keep in mind that the people you have your character interact with is an opportunity to enhance your main plot and show the intricacies of your protagonist through these interactions.
  3. Your story cannot and should not have too many characters and plot lines. In most stories you will have one main protagonist and one main antagonist. The main plot will be focused on these two characters and their struggle. Any additional characters and plot lines should in some way enhance the important aspects of the two main characters and their plot lines. If you find that a story related to another character is trying to take over the intended story, consider giving that person and their plot line their own story. Adding too many characters who each have their own distinct plot line confuses the reader and don’t know who to stand behind. Remember your supporting characters are there to support and enhance the main story.

In the end you are the only person who can determine the right number of characters and plot lines for your story. The key is to remember which character(s) and plot line they story is really about and then only introduce characters and plot lines that help to enhance or support the main characters and plot line. When done really well several or all of subplots will come to head at the same time as the main plot so that the final stand is even more powerful. 

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