I have a book that I am looking to adapt to a screenplay which has 11 main characters. Is there a, 'magic', number of lead characters for a screenplay. I really don't want to lose any of them as they are integral to the story, Frazer
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not until you lose the track of story. That is the backbone of any screenplay.
I try to just focus on one protagonist and one antagonist. If there's more than one main character I try to keep them related towards the protagonist so there's a consistent story.
the main thing is how can you properly incorporate and build the character identities within 80-130 pages. make the impossible happen - i always say. best of luck :)
Frazer, did you write this as a novel or a novel to be a movie? I received notes on a script that said it had too many stories and characters going on. I was angry that someone would say that, then I cut 20 pages and 5 characters. Two who were my favorites. Cut.
Hi, thankyou everyone, good to hear there is no magic number D Marcus.
Jeff, I wrote it as a novel only. I got feedback suggesting it would make a great screenplay which is where I found out that I may have too many characters. I cannot cut any of them for a screenplay because they are all integral to the story and not to mention they were all real people.
Hi Dan, I hope that the thing that would help an audience follow the characters is that they were all real and so maybe easier to follow.
It would be hard to combine some characters into one. Merging Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath and Jayne Mansfield for example would not work as their lives are well documented.
Thankyou Eric and Jeremy for your advice. I do have one protagonist and then I have 11 other main characters
Thankyou Lisa this does help. It is my own book, I am only wondering how to change it into a screenplay. This really helps though as I know who the protagonist is and so will reduce the part of other characters.
Thankyou Dan for your help, I am starting to understand how a screenplay works.
What is your narrative arc in terms of story structure? Start from zero characters and add up - what characters are absolutely essential to that arc? Only the ones on that list get in the script.
No there is no magic number. Keep an open mind while writing. Nothing is ever set in stone until the movie comes out on DVD.
It's hard for me to think of a contemporary novel written in the US or Europe that has 11 lead characters. I'm guessing you may be looking at a novel that's a series of linked short stories? If I were in your position, I'd go back and do a careful -- and analytical -- read of the book. Unless it's something wildly unusual, I suspect you'll find there are really only one or two (or possibly 3) main characters and the others are secondary, even if the rest of them are important to the story. What makes a lead or main character is page time. So from a technical standpoint, and assuming we're talking about a novel, a main character will typically be present on nearly every page of the story either in person or referenced by other characters. (There are exceptions to this depending on genre; thrillers will often have chapters or script segments that follow the bad guy before the hero gets onto him.) As others have said above, there's no magic rule about the number of main characters in screenplays, but I'd suggest that if you have more than four, you're stepping over a line that's a danger point for a spec script.
Yes there kind of is a magic number. Usually there are 4 to 6 major characters who are in 2 or more scenes and a total of no more than 13 characters who are in at least one scene that are pivotal - so you wouldn't count the waiter in that 13, but if there's a cop interrogating the protagonist he would be one of the 13. Yeah you can break that rule of course but that's what you normally see in films. so for example Back to the future you got Marty, Biff, Marty's mom, Marty's Dad, Doc and Marty's real-world girlfriend that's your 6 who are in 2+ scenes.
If you have 11 "leads" then you are making a movie like Short Cuts or Magnolia
Hi Dave, it is a dinner party with 11 guests sat together at a table. Each guest talks about their life (cue flashback)
Hi Richard, I would suggest that it is wildly unusual. Each of the 11 guests have equal page time. I appreciate your feedback and advice Richard, thankyou
Sounds like the Canterbury Tales.
Question: what makes a good story well told? Answer: a good story well told has a strong, central protagonist whom the audience can sympathize with (do not necessarily have to like the person), who wants something very badly and has obstacles in their way. The stakes have to be high enough to motivate the protagonist to go after what they want (severe consequences if they fail) and at the end they either succeed in getting what they want or fail.
The magic number is SEVEN it seems that Seven is the optimum number of characters or people can relate to in day to day life. (Notice how there are usually Seven castaways on desert islands) This has been deemed a fact through out history.. Even the Roman soldiers, nominally divided into groups of 10 often had only seven or eight men to a squad.
All 11 are the same amount of integral? For example, look at American Beauty - there are 6 characters who really matter - Ricky Fitts, his father, Lester, his wife, their daughter and Mena Suvari. Ricky's Mom and Peter Gallagher are lesser characters as are the gay couple. So there are 6 characters who contribute to the plot or have their own scene. Occasionally you'll see a movie like The Departed or The Bank Job where there are 10+ characters that are integral, but most of the time it's about 6.
Frazer - my instinct would be that there's probably no "magic" number, but 11 sounds like too many. When I think of storylines that DO manage with a lot of characters - say, "Game of Thrones" or the various intertwined X-Men sagas - they only really succeed because a) they started with a built-in, hardcore audience, and b) that audience got built in the first place via the print medium, which had virtually no limits in terms of length. With the book you're starting from, you have the luxury of expanding to fill all the space you need for all the characters you want, but the screenplay's just a different medium. I would consider the old showbusiness advice to "leave them wanting more," and consider which characters you might use to possibly build a sequel around - and then proceed mostly minus those characters.
American Beauty is a great film Dave
Thankyou Mark for the support I really appreciate it
I really wouldn't know how to get rid of some characters as I have spent such a long time with them and also they were real people. There is a link on my profile that shows you the 11 characters
It is an ensemble, think Agatha Christie and a train or a boat or a mansion. 11 guests gathered together, all with a story to tell.
Hi Christopher, I do have a central protagonist, I have someone who is not one of the 11 but rather he acts as the reader, he represents everyone who is looking at the dinner party
Kind of like "12 Angry Men". 12 characters but not all of them are "main" characters or "lead" characters. All essential to the story but not all lead/main characters. Like "Return of the Secaucus Seven". 7 characters all essential to the story but not all are lead/main characters. Like "The Big Chill". 8 characters all essential to the story but not all are lead/main characters.
The more characters you have, the less time you can devote to any one of them. There's no magic number; it's a question of what you're trying to say and how in-depth you need to get to say it.
make sure all your characters serve a different dramatic function. Can two or more characters be merged?
Frazer, Sounds like a setup for a low-budget indie (11 guests, one dining room). Are you going to produce/direct this yourself?
Hi Jeff, glad to know there is no magic number
Not sure I can merge some of them J G because the characters were real people and their lives are well documented
Hi Richard, no I would not be directing or producing, I am just looking to write a screenplay for, 'Clover Lane'. You are right though it could be an indie film.
Thankyou everyone for your help I really appreciate it. I think I will attempt a screenplay that has all eleven characters and then once it is done I can look at it and see if it works.
Absolutely, Frazer. No need to combine characters or change anything. It's been done successfully in the past and can be done in the future.