In a story I am about to write the best friend of the protagonist is a good, caring and benevolent person, lets call him John. The antagonist is not really a bad person but because of the circumstances in which he was raised is the villain, at least in the beginning of the story. Lets call him Bob.

Through some actions of Bob and especially his family, John starts to hate Bob and his mental states gets worse throughout the plot, while Bob starts to realize how wrong his actions are and his arc of redemption begins.

In the end, Bob is a redeemed villain and even becomes friends with the protagonist, while John has become kind of a fallen hero, who must be stopped by the protagonist with the help of Bob.

The problem is, that in order for the audience to really have a connection to both these characters (in addition to the protagonist) and care for the change in them I need to show their characters before the change. But as the protagonist also has quite some struggles (His best friend turns bad and he has to team up with the reason to stop him, the guilt of letting him fall, etc.) I feel like that is too much for one book. But on the other hand I see that as one story I don't want to be multiple parts.

So the question is: Is it too much for one book to introduce the new characters, the world, the magic system and in addition have so much character change, in which two people flip the sides with the explanation to why that is?

  • 1
    Welcome to Writing.SE Phendi, glad you found us. Please check out our tour and help center. Your question seems quite broad and a bit unclear to me. With the information you've provided, the answer can either be "go ahead, as long as it's well-written, you can include all that" or "some books suffer from having so much going on that the story never gets a chance to breathe." Can you narrow the question to focus on just one aspect of this question and let us know why you think it's more than other novels of a similar genre and length?
    – Cyn
    Jul 27, 2019 at 16:39

2 Answers 2


A short story has limited space, you have to limit yourself to a few characters and one conflict. A novel is not like that. In a novel you can have plots and subplots, a multitude of characters, you can tell a story that is complex and multifaceted. That's the great strength of a novel.

In your story, you seek to contrast the fall of one character with the rise of another. That can work beautifully as a sort of mirror image. There are interesting things you can say with this basic structure. Those things you won't be able to say if you tear the mirror image apart.

When people say there is "too much going on" in a novel, as often as not what they mean is what's going on is underdeveloped, elements are not given enough breathing space, the novel just keeps jumping from one element to the next and the next. The answer is to develop each element. Cutting some might or might not be involved.

How much can you explore in one single novel? Consider The Lord of the Ring: there is Frodo's journey, and Sam's, and Merry's and Pippin's and Aragorn's - all end very different people from how they started, each is given space to grow. All in a world that Tolkien had to introduce, in a political situation that needed to be explained.

Or consider Les Misérables: there's Jean Valjean, and Javert, and Fantine, and Marius, and the list goes on. None of those characters are underdeveloped, each undergoes a journey, and it all ties into one strong story - one big structure that is meaningful exactly because it contains all those elements.

If you want a modern example, look at Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings: characters become friends and then turn on each other, other characters walk on the stage, transform and then walk off it, an empire collapses, goes through a civil war, until a new king rises. None of this is "too much".

You have a story with multiple elements that tie into one overarching structure. That's great. Now all you need to do is give every element the space it needs, so no part of the story feels rushed.

  • 3
    Thank you for this, I didn't really consider that side. Ironically every finished product I've done so far were short stories, so I probably uncounsciously had that limitation in my head. So you pointing that out I realized my mistake :)
    – Phendi
    Jul 28, 2019 at 11:30

No, it is not too much (I agree with Galastel).

If you are feeling it is too much, I suspect your story is underdeveloped, or under-imagined. You need more scenes to illustrate the transitions smoothly, which means you need to invent more story, more conflicts with more emotion. It means your outline doesn't sound terrible, but perhaps you need to slow down the pace (by introducing more scenes, with more justification, and more showing of emotional transformations) so it doesn't feel like it just jumps four stairs at a time.

Identify for yourself where the "too fast, too far" moments are, and try to invent one or two intermediate steps that will get the character to the same place without him falling off a cliff (or jumping up one).

This obviously has ramifications for the rest of the story, what the OTHER characters are doing also needs to be addressed if all the character arcs are going to come together when they should.

So I'm not saying it is easy, but yes, it can be done.

  • Thank you for this, this helps me to identify my next steps, nevertheless in my context I feel like Galastel's answer helped me more to identify my mistake.
    – Phendi
    Jul 28, 2019 at 11:33

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