I recently picked up a novel with a roster of characters listed in front. It seemed like a lot of characters even for a thriller, so I did some math.
Based on the number of pages, a new character would be introduced on average every 7.4 pages. That seemed like a lot of characters to keep track of.
So I discarded the book and moved on to another novel. Did I do the right thing?
Possibly. I began to wonder if all the characters named by the author played an important role in the story. What if some of them were mentioned only once and didn’t need a name? I suspected such when reading their descriptions. Or maybe they were necessary for only one chapter, to reveal something important about another character.
I can think of characters like that in my books. For one, the policeman who came to the classroom when Tookie collapsed. My first publisher had me give him a name; my second publisher probably would’ve preferred I delete the name. Now I wish I had.
I don’t believe I want to provide a character roster for any of my novels, and I suspect the thriller author may have done his story a disservice by having one. When reading a good story that is well-written, I haven’t found the need for knowing characters’ names in advance, unless they are foreign-language names I might easily confuse. And that has happened.
Does the proportion of characters to novel length matter to you? Do you prefer that an author list the character names and roles in the front of the book or not?