I'm adding a qualifying question to the end of this question.
So I have (let's say) two types of feedback in my beta critiques and real-life writing clubs. One is that I have floating heads syndrome, - conversations without grounding and surrounding details. I can fix those.
The second is, I have 'too many characters' in some scenes. FTR, I have 32 named characters altogether, which is near average for a SFF book. (Some famous works have over 70.) IOW, I am not convinced that the number of characters is the problem - I suspect it is my execution that is the problem.
These two pieces of feedback stand somewhat in opposition, in my mind. Readers want more surrounding detail - but that detail should not be characters. Even if those characters have a defined role. Example: in a hospital setting, the MC has two nurses. This is on the lower side of realistic - I'd expect three shifts, three nurses, at a bare minimum. My writing group wants this folded into one nurse, or even no nurses at all.
While also wanting me to ground the scenes with realistic detail.
I could expand the scenes, but this runs up against "What does the reader really need to know?" I could not name the nurses, but they are a staple of the scene.
In another chapter, there are twelve people (five inside and seven outside), and I agree this is a lot. At the time that I wrote it, I remember I was trying to get past all the 2-person dialogs I had. I wanted a crowd scene, full stop, so I wrote one. the intent of the scene is chaos, as well. Now, I can prune this back to about eight (four of whom the reader already knows), and the children can lose their names, becoming 'the baby' and 'the little boy.' (However, it is unrealistic that the mother in dialog would say "Come here, little boy." She would use his name. So this solution is only partial for the children.)
I'm not convinced removing names is necessarily the thing to do. It immediately will be less true-to-life and these characters show up later.
So. if you have thoughts about the correct pacing of introducing new characters, ways to tighten up the reader's experience, or (in my estimation) if a writer's group reading six excerpts back to back provides feedback that is not applicable to a solo reader immersed in a story, and should be tempered accordingly, I'd love to hear it.
How would you describe the ideal pacing and introduction of new characters?
Edit: Additionally, what is the effect on the reader, if, for example, a nurse said something like, "I'm Mary, but it's alright if you don't remember. You just get well." Will the reader feel permitted to not remember? (LOL I could have her say "I'm Mary but I don't show up in this book again," LOL)
Another edit: To say that he forgot her name is to (mis)characterize him, the MC. I'd rather have her say that she is Mary but he need not remember, if this is acceptable. I don't believe I have any named characters that only show up once, or only in one chapter (even Mary.). I'm definitely on the lookout for those, though.
What is good pacing and style for new character introductions?
It occurs to me there may be special tricks for some types of characters. For example, a baby. If I want her mother to use her name, the mother can occasionally call her 'Baby Annie' and not just Annie. Now and then the mother might remind everyone that Annie is the baby.
Similarly, the little boy could sometimes be 'Little Joey.'
(A nurse can occasionally be called Nurse Mary, and not just Mary. These label-cues should help the reader along, yes? (oh, right, that's the nurse.) I think this is similar to Amadeus' suggestion about remembering someone from a party within dialog.
This trick makes sense to me for some of the characters ... and if there's a point here that I might be missing I'd like to put the idea out for consideration.
(Bad, on-the-fly, needs rewriting) example:
The mother said, "Oh, thank you for picking that up. Baby Annie is always dropping her pacifier. Little Joey never dropped a thing, but his sister has butter fingers."
Another Edit: Another trick picked up over the months is to give a small easily-visible detail to the less important characters. Like a red bowtie. "John, the man in the bowtie, was speaking again." The reader seems to be able to grab onto that sort of detail and remember John not as John but as Man in red bowtie.