Are there any good limits or rules of proportion between time (or pages) spending on characters of primary list and secondary list?

I mean, that if character of secondary list appears only at the beginning and in the end, how much time i should spend on him? Are there any rules about it?


2 Answers 2


I'm afraid the only answer here is "as long as needed".

The story must captivate you, the writer, enough that the characters fight for their time share, appear for their specific purposes, linger in the background creating the mood, surprise us with their reappearances, break the mold, capture our hearts, capture your heart. You spend on each just enough time to have them fleshed out sufficiently, fulfill their role and then some - to let them be more than a literary tool, be a live soul too. This is not something that can be measured in pages.

If you try to apply a technical metrics like time or pages, engineer the timeshare given to each character, don't live the story with them but just construct a literary product matching given technical standards, you won't be writing a very captivating story.

  • no-no, no metrics or etc. i mean how human can understand, which character is primary and which is secondary? In my situation, i can't decide, when i can stop describing a character and move to next act if this character is secondary and he appears only at the beginning and at the end. Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 9:46
  • 2
    @loldop: Then the answer is "enough to make them memorable." Again, not measured in pages or time, but in action and character. Give them enough time to be and do enough for the reader to remember them well until their reappearance, and then add a little more, for spice. Let me restate: one character will be memorable through three lines of exposure followed by one brilliant one-liner, while another may require a whole chapter of fleshing out and forging them through trials of fire. Not measurable in pages.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 9:54
  • measureable in memories, right? :) thanks for explanation! Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 10:02

If a character appears only at the beginning and in the end then you need to devote sufficient time and space to ensure that the readers remember him (or her) when he reappears but not so much that they wonder why he was not more prominent in the middle of the story.

You cannot think of this in terms of number of words because that takes no account of the impact of the events in which the character is involved. A person (apparently) killed in a devastating explosion may be "gone" by the end of page 3 but you readers will be aware of who she is when she reappears horribly scarred but recovered from her amnesia at the denouement.

On the other hand, if the character has a low-key role in the opening section you may need to put more time into describing him or building his back-story so that he is memorable when revealed as the long-lost heir.

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