Story Element

Story Element #1

Characters Per Scene

You want your readers to know and connect with your characters in every scene.

Characters per scene are the characters who play an active role in a scene and characters who are mentioned in the scene. Our video shows you concrete steps you can take to engage readers with your characters.

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Video Transcript


Welcome back to our fiction editing series, where we’re talking to you about all the different elements that make your story strong. Today, we want to talk to you about characters in the Character Story Elements and how many of those you should have per scene and how to keep your readers coming back.

Today with me, I have Kristina Stanley from Fictionary. Welcome.


Hi JoEllen,

So this is where things get really interesting because we’re going to get right into the nitty-gritty of story editing.

Whether you’re a writer or you’re an editor, these are the things you need to know about story editing.


Exactly. And what we love about the series, it says for both writers and editors, which allows them to learn a little bit and to improve their writing and their editing skills as we go.

As we dig into the characters per scene, we want to make sure that they keep our readers coming back.

So as we look into this, what exactly are we looking for Kristina?

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How Many Characters are Too Many?


First, let’s start with what I mean by characters in a scene.

So characters in a scene are the characters who have a role in the scene. And so if you think of a play, it’s who’s on stage. The second set of characters are the offstage characters who are mentioned. So as a, as a writer or an editor, you need to know exactly who’s in and who’s mentioned in a scene.

There are several reasons for doing this one:

  • the fewer characters you have, the more time a reader has to get connected with that character.
  • And it’s really important because your readers really want to cheer for somebody or cheer against somebody depending on the story. So the number of characters is going to influence that.
  • Too many and the reader’s going to get lost.

And of course, you know, there’s exceptions. If it’s a basketball team and it’s the players playing, that of course is fine.

But you want to think of this in the context of readers connecting and who are they connecting with in each particular scene.

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How to Introduce Characters


Right. So how do we give them an example of how they can evaluate the successful use of the character within the scene?


Okay. So the first thing is once you know character your list, you’re going to assess whether it’s the character’s first scene. So if it’s a first scene, this first time, the character is in the story, then character introduction needs to be considered. How is that character being introduced?

The more major a character is, the longer the introduction. For the minor characters, not as much. So once you reader is engaged with the character, you not only need to know when they come in the story, you need to know when they exit the story.

And that becomes important. So if you have a protagonist and they enter the story early, which they should, you don’t want them exiting early. The protagonist must be in the climax scene ,and they must also be in the key scenes such as the inciting incident and plot points.

When you’re reviewing a story, really you want to be looking at who is the protagonist and are they in the key scenes, are they in the majority of scenes, and when did they come in? When do they go out? So then you have a nice view of what your characters are doing scene by scene, but also throughout the story.

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How Many Main Characters is too Many?


Perfect. Now what about our extra characters that we have? How do we know if they’re actually serving a purpose or if we need to maybe remove them? And I know we fall in love with our characters, but how do we assess that?


Okay. So I’m going to give an example to explain this in a book that I recently edited, the protagonist has two brothers with families in it, and they’re really a support role in helping the protagonist. So why do there need to be two brothers? Is his one brother doing something different than the other brother? And in this case, the answer was no. She just had a nice family. So you cut one of the families all together and you take all of those scenes that were with the second brother and you make it the first brother.

And now, all of a sudden what happens is the reader doesn’t get confused between which brother it is. They can get closer and more connected to one brother and that family, and it makes it easier for the reader to remember. And it makes them happier because now they’re more engaged with the character.

So that’s a very easy example of how to know if the character actually has to be there.


Perfect. I think that’s great. So again, we want to go in today, and we want to look at our characters, make sure that the protagonist is in the primary scenes, any conflict, and they’re in the point of resolution.

And then we want to evaluate all of our extraneous people and see how much they are contributing to the story overall. If we can combine them or if we need to elaborate.

Character Names


One more thing about characters in a scene.

This is your chance to list them out. This is a chance to look if any of the character names are confusing. So then if you have a character Jack and a character John, the reader’s not going to remember the difference.  In one scene, they might because they’re in the scene together, but say three or four scenes goes by now, John appears.

The reader’s going to think, well, is that Jack or John? And they won’t know. And it drives the reader crazy when they have to flip back and go, who is this character that this just happened to?

So when you’re looking at who’s in a scene, look at the names carefully,


Make them different. I mean, I would think multiple syllables versus single syllable, that’s advantageous.


Yes. And starting with different letters. So don’t use J and J. Pick something else, if you can, unless there’s a very specific reason. A reason might be a parent had twin sons, and they named them Jack and John, and it’s been an irritant through their entire lives. And so there’s a reason for it. But if there’s not a reason, don’t do it.


Agreed, agreed. I think that’s great. I think our listeners have some definite takeaways.

Fictionary & First Editing

So go in, assess your characters in each of the scenes and see how they’re working and best of luck when you need some additional help reach out to us.

My name’s JoEllen I’m with First Editing and Kristina here is with Fictionary. Thank you.


Thanks everybody.

So what can you do next to tell a powerful story? Anyone who knows me knows that I actually think editing is fun. So here’s your editing fun.

Make a list of every character in every scene.

And let’s recap while you’re doing that, you’re going to give your readers time to connect with each character. You’re going to make sure that the protagonist is in all of the key scenes, you’ll make sure that every character serves a purpose. And you’re going to check that you’ve avoided confusing names.

So this may seem like a lot, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Fictionary, Fictionary StoryTeller does this automatically and you can start your two week free trial at and have a look at how your characters per scene plays out through your entire story.

Automatically See Your Characters Per Scene!

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