How Many Characters in a Book?

One of my editors told me I needed to kill off a bunch of characters. He said I had too many to follow. I thought about Eugene Sue’s 1889 novel, The Wandering Jew. It runs a couple thousand onion-skin pages and I do remember struggling to remember who was whom. But in the two novels I’ve been writing in tandem, the community—or lack of it—is the point. I intentionally left Bobbi Bowen in The Reluctant Canary Sings with hardly anyone to help and comfort her. On the other hand, Connor Conroy in my unnamed work-in-progress finds community and family everywhere.

Throughout the novel, Connor worries about his sister who is a secretary with the U.S. Foreign Service stationed in Paris. As the Nazi machine gets closer, he tries to prepare his parents’ farm for his prolonged absence. He plans to enlist in the hope that he can rescue his sister.

Here is Connor’s beloved sister Nora:

Basic Statistics
Name: Nora Conroy
Age: 19
Nationality: U.S. citizen, English, Irish, Scottish, German, Wyandotte, Shawnee
Socioeconomic Level as a child: upper middle class
Socioeconomic Level as an adult: poor
Hometown: Elk Creek, Nebraska
Current Residence: Elk Creek, Nebraska
Occupation: domestic
Income: intermittent as jobs available
Talents/Skills:  farm wife, cooking, cleaning, caring for livestock, milking cows, etc.
Salary: intermittent
Birth order: second and last
Siblings (describe relationship): Connor. Very close
Grandparents (describe relationship):  Will and Frank Conroy. A little intimidated
Relationship skills: shy, but caring. Empathetic, but aloof.

Physical Characteristics:
Height:  5’7”
Race: White
Eye Color:
Hair Color:
Long, Blond
Glasses or contact lenses?
Skin color:
Shape of Face:
Distinguishing features:
slightly buck toothed
How does he/she dress?
farm attire, sometimes overalls, mostly dresses, shirtwaists when off the farm
hand over mouth; closed mouth smile
Habits: (smoking, drinking etc.)
No smoking or drinking. Obsessive reading, at least at the beginning. Escape from boredom.
dancing, learning new dances, listening to music, reading
Favorite Sayings:
 I can’t see it. Show me.
Speech patterns:
careful to avoid slang that creeps into other members of her family’s vocabulary.
Math anxiety. Struggles with abstractions. Needs concrete experience.
Style (Elegant, shabby etc.):
elegant away from home, shabby when working on farm
Greatest flaw:
Best quality:
desire to help others

Intellectual/Mental/Personality Attributes and Attitudes
Educational Background: finished high school      
Intelligence Level:
Any Mental Illnesses?
a little obsessive
Learning Experiences: 
Trip to California showed her a greater world than she’d ever seen; hearing Spanish spoken gives her a taste for languages, foreign places.  Dust storms teach her patience, endurance.
Character’s short-term goals in life:
get away from the farm
Character’s long-term goals in life: 
home and family, love
How does Character see himself/herself?
Beautiful, caring soul unable to express herself.
How does Character believe he/she is perceived by others? Unattractive because of big teeth; dumb because she can’t grasp abstractions like her brother.
How self-confident is the character?
lacks self confidence
Does the character seem ruled by emotion or logic or some combination thereof?
 emotion–a bleeding heart.
What would most embarrass this character? 
Being seen in her work clothes by anyone outside family.  Even gathering rubber for the coming war effort, she had to change into a dress for the newspaper photographer.

Emotional Characteristics
Strengths/Weaknesses: Nora’s smarter than she thinks and more adaptable. Serious. Diligent; hard worker. Great comforting children sent to safety by parents. Does well with repetitive tasks required for secretarial work–filling out forms to get people out of Europe, but impatient with rules of diplomacy that keep her from saving more people. She’s too willing to take risks to help other people and sometimes puts the rest of the staff in jeopardy.
Introvert or Extrovert?
How does the character deal with anger?
denies it, even to herself
With sadness?
Beginning, wallows; Ending recognizes sorrow and adapts.
With conflict?
avoids it
With change?
avoids it; then embraces it.
With loss?
begins being crushed by small losses; ends able to grieve and go on effectively
What does the character want out of life?
the love of a good man, children, to make a difference
What would the character like to change in his/her life?
she doesn’t want to be a farm wife
What motivates this character?
a desire for something different; helping people; love
What frightens this character?
 the Hitler war machine, Daniel getting caught.
What makes this character happy?
her family, her lover
Is the character judgmental of others? 
Is the character generous or stingy? 
Is the character generally polite or rude? 

Spiritual Characteristics
Does the character believe in God?  Yes, although her belief is tested throughout novel
What are the character’s spiritual beliefs?
like the rest of her family, very nature centered
Is religion or spirituality a part of this character’s life?
Not a big part
If so, what role does it play?
provides a sense of connection to the world

How the Character is Involved in the Story
Character’s role in the novel (main character? hero? heroine? Romantic interest? etc.): Main character’s sister. Provides a sense of his ability to be a catalyst for other’s change
Scene where character first appears:
prologue–early in novel: flashback when Connor returns home from being a hobo during Depression
Relationships with other characters:
1. Connor Conroy: — little sister. Connor condescends a little, but by the end of the novel, he’s in awe of her work.
2. Claire Conroy: — Daughter. Only begins to understand mother.
3. Henry Conroy: — Daughter. Respect. Doesn’t change.
4. Daniel Jardin: — Lover. Co-conspirator in smuggling Jews out of Europe. Relationship fraught with danger.

How character is different at the end of the novel from when the novel began: Nora has outgrown her vanity and taste for adventure. Ready to settle down with Jardin, assuming he’s survived, even on a farm, if need be.

Additional Notes on This Character: Nora has a large part in this novel, but only as a supporting character to demonstrate the kind of family that has formed Connor. Her story is secondary (but I see I have to resolve it).

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