Ah, the main characters! They are so fun because they drive the basis of a story. I mean, what is a story without the decisions of someone completely fictional? I feel that the main characters are interesting because we develop their psyche, the things that they do, and how they interact with the world around. However, there’s this daunting question, how many are too many?
First and foremost, this all depends on point of view. If you have a point of view that is the first person then you’re more likely going to be looking at the world through the lens of one character. Unless you don’t mind the rotating point of views. The way that you could rotate a first-person point of view is to set each chapter through the eyes of different characters.
This can be hard if done with more than three distinct personalities the lines can be blurred on who is who. Otherwise, you’re better off just keeping it simple and having a first person that is predominantly through one main character who interacts with sub-characters.
Now, if you want to have a rolling list of main characters, you can do it! You just have to be smart about the way that you use white space, chapters, and “head hopping.” In the best way to create a story with many characters, it is important to use third person point of view or the lens of the main character who is getting to know the others.
In third person point of view, we can observe what the many characters are doing. In this focal point, you can have as many people as you want just be sure to make them all different from each other in their features. From a “God” like lens, we can get to know many characters easily so long as they are constantly interacting with the plot.
In the first person point of view, use the main character to get to know the other main characters by only seeing these other “people” through interactions. The main character can interact with as many others so long as these also interact with the plot.
Overall, is there a number of characters that it can take to write a complete story? No, but the rule of thumb is to have a clear and concise point of view to show their distinguishing features. However, the story should be filtered through a clear lens which makes it easy for your reader to follow along.
And, always remember, the benefit that fiction has over film is the amount of interiority. Create main characters that add to the emotional world of the reader without taking away from their distinct and unique features.