How many characters should my screenplay have?

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How many characters should my screenplay have?

Postby dreamtowrite » Aug 02, 2010 3:07 pm

I have been told more than once that I have too many characters to follow in my screenplay. But I need all my characters.
According to the document analysis
50 characters, of whom 16 spoke 11 or more times, 5 spoke 5-10 times, and 29 spoke 1-4 times

How can I make my characters more memorable?

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Chris Huntley
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Re: How many characters should my screenplay have?

Postby Chris Huntley » Aug 03, 2010 8:58 am

Every actor in a movie, particularly speaking roles, costs a minimum of one day at SAG scale (assuming it is professionally produced). They are EXPENSIVE. Lots of characters means lots of $$$.

PLUS, it is difficult to follow 50 different characters around without confusing the audience/reader. Unless this is a saga, keep it to a minimum. The director can always choose to distribute the speaking bits to actors on set. In the acting biz (especially for extras), this is known as an "upgrade."
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Re: How many characters should my screenplay have?

Postby BrianReynolds » Aug 04, 2010 8:46 am

Even for established materials (i.e. published books being converted to the screen) different characters are often consolidated into one for both budget and streamlining reasons. I know on my last script I took several characters and made them into one that did what I needed done and provided the impetus in the right places, and it made the script much tighter.

Even in my horror film, which has 54 (54!!!) characters, most of them don't speak. Unless you count screaming. There are twelve main characters, 4 leads and eight supporting. And even that's massive.

I don't presume to know what your process is like, but I know personally I get "really cool" ideas that I fall in love with. Then I go back during the second draft phase and realize that I need to cut, cut, cut. Scenes that I thought would be neat, arcs I loved, lines that made me laugh, all need to be cut. (I save them all in a giant word document in case they will fit in another script someday.) Perhaps you could take a look at your script and figure out what you really need to tell your story, and what you love but is cluttering things up.

Good luck!

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Re: How many characters should my screenplay have?

Postby forty » Aug 13, 2010 7:46 am

There is technically no limit BUT:

A good story structure involves a certain process and a number of related functions (related to archetypes). Normally, you keep the story clean by assigning multiple functions to a small group of characters. Once you have the story outlined well, you can then distribute the functions among a number of characters (if you so wish).

I think you're probably going awry by assigning each function to a character. Try and assign multiple functions to a character.

It might work on a large canvas of a novel etc, but in screenplay terms, you're more likely to confuse than not.

Also, think about groups of people as a single set. The group is the archetype. A group / set means that you can pick out different individuals from the group to perform the function. This may help if you really want lots of characters.

Again, it's probably heresy to say on this board, but a good source of info for groups of characters is Kal at ; for example, he groups a lot of characters into sets such as "The Good People of the Township" and "Circle of Elders" etc and it makes a lot of sense. Email him; I've done so and he's quite helpful.
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