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In my story, there are two characters: a schoolgirl and a strange person with a creepy mask who gives her a tour in an art museum at night. Well, actually there is a third character; the boyfriend of the girl, but he only answers the phone at the beginning to tell her that he will come later (but never does), and she talks about him all throughout the novel.

Will this short novel (approximately 200 pages) be boring to my readers because it only has two characters, and because the whole novel is set in that art museum? Will it be better if there are more? Or should I just stick with the plot without caring about that?

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    "Waiting for Godot" has 2 characters, one scene, and very little action. It is also an exceptionally good play. It can be done, and can be phenomenal when it works. – Schroedingers Cat Jun 13 '12 at 13:02
  • It's about quality, not quantity. – Tannalein Dec 28 '12 at 23:40
  • I'd be bored. I think it really depends on who the directed audience is. – Aspen the Artist and Author Aug 27 '17 at 23:37
  • @Schroedingers Cat - Some people think "Godot" is boring :) – Alexander Aug 28 '17 at 18:02

11 Answers 11

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Use as many characters you need. Don't add extra characters unless they relate to the story.

The Old Man and the Sea only had two characters (three if you include the marlin).

However, remember that these individuals will know of other people.

While they may not appear in the novel directly, they will have an influence on them.

The Old Man and the Sea mentioned three other characters that never appeared directly, but we know of them through Santiago and Manolin.

Edit: Also, just to add, even though things take place in a museum, a museum consists of many different rooms and places, so although it's one location, it contains many different locations, too. Even then, having only one location is not necessarily a bad thing (think of the film "Alien", for example, where the majority of the film takes place on one space ship). If you story calls for one location, then stick with it.

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    Speaking of Hemingway, "Hills Like White Elephants" has just two characters waiting for a train. – Ken Mohnkern Aug 28 '17 at 15:10
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I once read a book with a cast of thousands and an epic sweep that covered centuries of mythical action, bloody wars, magical happenings and whatnot.

I read about four chapters and gave up because:

  • The characters were lame.
  • The dialogue was stilted.
  • The plot was generic.
  • The infodumps were deep, long and seemingly without relevance.

I read another story about a man dreaming he was climbing to the top of a mountain, where he promptly fell off. That's about all there was to it.

It gripped me from beginning to end.

Anything's possible. It's the story that matters.

  • A book with an actual cast of thousands would probably have me giving up as a reader simply trying to keep a fraction of the characters straight. Having lots of background characters is okay, but those are mostly just decoration, usually with little more importance than the color paint on the protagonist's neighbor's door. Something like describing a battle scene with a few thousand soldiers on each side doesn't require that each is a fully fleshed out character; those soldiers can be summed up in a few paragraphs at most. – a CVn Aug 28 '17 at 7:36
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A million word novel can be boring and a 500 word story can be gripping. What matters is that it is written well and has a worthwhile story to tell.

Heart of Darkness is just 25-30 pages and almost universally appears on any Top 100 literature or novel list. It has plenty of characters and locations, but its power comes from who those characters are, and how they are written, not from the fact that it is set in the jungle.

  • OK, I think I'm going to read that one. – Alexandro Chen Apr 19 '11 at 17:36
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    ...I have to say, as much as I love and respect HoD, I will NEVER willingly read it again, I don't think. Understanding it gave me brain strain... That said, I emphatically recommend it! :) – kitukwfyer Apr 20 '11 at 12:26
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Why would you add extra anything if your plot doesn't need it? Most writers have trouble taking things out, and you're trying to stuff things in? We should all have such troubles. ;)

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Remember there is always a journey in a story. Many writers will call this the "plot", but the two don't co-incide compeletely.

You've put your two characters on a journey with each other through the museum. What will they encounter about themselves and each other? What will they learn? How will they react? How will they change? How will their reactions change? What about the journey you take the reader on?

Remember, too, that an art museum has all the artwork as additional "characters". If one character is giving a tour, then the art should play an important role in what happens. Or at least, that's what the tour guide is going to clearly expect.

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These things have no bearing on whether the story is boring

A boring story is boring if it fails to capture the imagination of the reader. A complex plot with dozens of characters and a detailed expansive world won't prevent a story from being boring. Neither will a lack of these things make a story boring.

Objects and exhibits become sudo-characters

Set within a museum there will be plenty of opportunity to introduce interesting objects or exhibits. These objects will have their own backstory and meaning to the main character. Show the interactions between the MC and these objects, demonstrate their importance and value. Do this well and the object becomes a sudo-character with a story arc all of its own.

Example in fiction

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a novella by Patrick Rothfuss set within his Kingkiller Chronicles universe. It follows the life of a single isolated character in their private world beneath the city. We only ever see things from this characters perspective, there are no other living creatures in the story. Instead we are shown the world as the character sees it, her attachment to inanimate objects and her feelings toward the various rooms she visits. As readers we develop an emotional attachment to her possessions such that the loss of one is akin to the death of a character in any other story.

This story is enhanced rather than hindered by a lack of characters and locations. By limiting the scale of the world we are forced to examine things on another level, enabling a unique and fascinating tale. I see no reason the story you are writing couldn't evoke the same feeling.

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No. It will not be boring because of your character count or your locations. Neither of these have strict requirements to satisfy before you break through the excitement barrier. The quality of dialogue, characters, locations and events will have a larger impact on excitement than the mere count of those things.

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The only real answer is whether or not you can write a 200 page story in a museum that is interesting. Those circumstances don't necessarily disqualify you but, I personally would have trouble with a plot that stays there for 200 pages.

That above statement doesn't really mean anything to your circumstance.

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I haven't read your story so I have no idea if it's boring or not. But the number of characters of itself has little to do with it. You cannot measure how interesting a story is just by counting the number of characters, multiplying by the number of different settings, and adding the square root of the elapsed time. That's not how it works.

I wouldn't look for arbitrary ways to make the story more interesting: use characters and settings that fit the story you want to tell. If at some point in writing you conclude that you cannot develop your characters the way you want without introducing an interaction with a new character, then bring in a new character. But likewise I'd say that if a story has many characters and one or more don't contribute anything distinctive, drop them. Etc.

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Comparing apples to Volkswagens, a little, but a play titled Sleuth (Anthony Shaffer, 1970, adapted as a feature film in 1972, 2007, and 2014) has only two characters, and takes place in a house; in its stage form, in a single room in a single act. Despite that very limited scope, it's a rather gripping tale.

If you write the story well, you can keep tension with only two characters over a novel length work. Build the conflict correctly, drop the information gradually, and a "small" story can keep interest right to the end.

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From a movie/tv perspective the classic "12 Angry Men" has 12 characters (it's a jury) and never leaves the jury deliberation chamber save for the ending.

Similarly, the Deep Space 9 episode, while having to deal with SAG rules that staring actors must appear in a bulk of the episodes, it's carried by two characters and was written as a "bottle episode" which in TV Speak means it was designed to use only the existing sets so they could save money for bigger stunts in later episodes. Despite this, it's one of the best of the season because it banked on the raw emotion of the two characters.

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