9 Surprising Reasons You Need 20 Characters to Start a Book

Deconstructing Bestselling Novels, One Doodle at a Time.

01.01.2014 by

If you think you have nothing to write about in your novel’s first chapter, think again: you have 20 people to introduce, and fast!  Harry Potter and The Hunger Games each introduce 19 characters in their first chapter, and Twilight introduces a whopping 24.

Why the crowd?
Introducing 20 characters is a surefire way to quickly add color and dimension to the hero’s world.  Here’s why it works:

  1. The Hero kicks off the novel.  We learn basic facts like his age and name, but we also see on a deeper level that the hero does not fit in to his dreary homeland.
  2. The Hero’s family demonstrates the lack of care the Hero receives, and why the Hero can only rely on himself.  The Hero’s family can also show that the hero has someone he needs to protect.
  3. The Herald is not a part of the hero’s everyday life, and he introduces an element of magic when he brings the hero an invitation for adventure.
  4. The Mentor appears in chapter 1, although the Hero doesn’t meet him face-to-face until later.  For now, we see the possibility that the hero will finally receive some parenting of sorts.
  5. Authority Figures remind us that the hero has to deal with the rules of his everyday teenage life, even though he has a much bigger adventures on his plate.
  6. Peers, like the Authority Figures, add conflict by forcing the hero to deal with two worlds at the same time.  For older heroes, the peers also bring an opportunity for sexual tension.
  7. Characters representing Danger are present in chapter 1 to give the feeling that “all is not what it seems.”  We are curious to know whether the villains really are up-to-no-good.
  8. No-names help set the scene without bogging down the reader with unnecessary information.  No-names are great for changing up the way the reader receives information– not everything needs to come out of your hero’s mouth.
  9. Extras help flesh-out a scene with realistic details, right down to their curious names.  These characters are likely to reappear in greater detail later in the novel, and when they do, it won’t feel too “convenient” since they have already been introduced.

When in doubt, make a chart
The chart below highlights all of the characters present in the respective first chapters of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight.  A character listed in italics means that the character was discussed in the chapter but not physically present.


CharactersHarry PotterTwilightThe Hunger Games
1. HeroHarry PotterBella SwannKatniss Everdeen
2. Hero’s Family
  • Mr. Dursley
  • Petunia Dursley
  • Dudley Dursley
  • Lily Potter
  • James Potter
  • Renee
  • Renee’s boyfriend, Phil
  • Charlie Swann
  • Prim
  • Mother
  • Father
  • Buttercup (cat)
  • Lady (goat)
3. Herald
  • Hagrid
  • Effie Trinket
4. Mentor
  • Albus Dumbledore
  • Haymitch Abernathy
5. Authority Figures
  • Prof. McGonagall
  • Mr. Mason
  • Mr. Jefferson
  • Mr. Varner
  • Mr. Banner
  • Coach Clapp
  • Peacekeepers
  • Mayor Undersee
6. Peers
  • Eric
  • Mike
  • Angela
  • Jessica
  • Gale
  • Madge Undersee
7. Characters Representing Danger
  • Voldemort
  • Dr. Cullen & wife
  • Edward, Emmet, and Alice Cullen
  • Rosalie and Jasper Hale
  • The Capitol
8. No-names
  • man in violet cloak
  • 2 other people in cloaks
  • people who toast to Harry
  • Receptionist
  • two pale-skinned girls
  • Gale’s family: two brothers, sister, mother
  • Baker
9. Extras
  • Newscasters Ted and Jim McGuffin
  • Dedalus Diggle
  • Madam Pomfrey
  • Sirius Black
  • Billy Black
  • Greasy Sae
Chapter 1 Total19 Characters24 Characters19 Characters

Now that you know that it takes an army to start your novel, fill your first chapter with a world of characters.  For more information, check out this article on creating characters that come alive.  The point is to give the reader the sense that he is entering a world that already exists and thus enable him to feel immediately immersed.

More novels on Betternovelptoject


Collins, Suzanne (2009-09-01). The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc. Kindle Edition. (“HG”).

Meyer, Stephenie (2007-07-18). Twilight (The Twilight Saga). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition. (“TW”).

Rowling, J.K. (2012-03-27). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1). Pottermore Limited. Kindle Edition. (“HP”).


About Christine Frazier

I help people write better stories using research instead of luck. I’m a writer, joyous outliner, and compulsive doodler. Learn more.


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