Including a character list ?

eBook self publishing.

I am thinking of including a character list in the section following the story, and included in the TOC as such. I already have it at hand in Scrivener anyway.

What do other writers think ?

My first thought was “what for”? Would you include just the names or a short bio too?

Well firstly it is a thing I have often read other readers express an opinion about. Readers who lose track of who is who, especially when there are many characters. Secondly I myself lose track of who is who regularly, especially if I put a book down for a week or more. Thirdly when I was getting feedback from a number of constructive friends on my book, a quarter mentioned this as an issue for them when they read not ony my book but others too.
So what’s there to lose is what I am thinking.

No not a bio 8) but simply who people are in 5 words for example:

John Smith: Postman
David Jones: Farmer in pub on night of murder
Dennison: Police detective.
Mary Brown: Lawyer
Anna Larra: Neighbour

A simple listing

I think if your readers get lost then you have to address the need, but I don’t think a “reference manual” or “cheat sheet” will help in such a case. IMHO, fiction should be self contained (I’m assuming you’re writing fiction).

But you might as well make that “character map” be part of the story and solve the problem. For instance, one of the characters might take notes and create a journal the reader can refer to. You may insert pieces of this jorunal every now and then. Asimov used a similar technique in the Foundation series, via the Galactic Enciclopaedia, where the reader could learn things that no character would reveal because they already knew.

Just my 2 cents.

Thanks for your views.

When you have a vast cast of characters, with multiple and/or infrequent appearances, these can be very important. Note how Hilary Mantel does this in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Without her list, and the intertwining trees of relationships, even the most astute reader would be left scratching her head.

But when you have only a few characters–fewer than dozen, anyway–and most of them are onstage most of the time, readers should be able to easily keep up, if they’re actually reading instead of skimming (in which case, who wants them as readers?), and you’ve done your job as a writer by making them memorable and different.

It needs to be kept in mind that a character list is not being imposed on the reader. It is being placed at the back of the book. Also I am taking about a novel/thriller and not a play consisting of a few characters who wear distinctive clothes and are easily remembered. Not everyone has an encyclopaedic memory.

Plenty of authors provide this in various forms. Family trees, glossaries, character bios. Nothing wrong with doing what other authors do. One thing that I wish more scifi/fantasy writers would include: a pronunciation guide for invented words, and people & place names.

Interesting question - my wife wants just this for the story I’m writing her.

My concern, and why I don’t want to provide it, is that the inclusion of characters that have not yet appeared in the story, can spoil the ‘surprise’ element and give away plot point clues.

A better question would be “How to resist it and keep your reader happy”.

If readers are getting lost with who is who then perhaps the fault is not the omission of a dramatis personæ but rather than there is insufficient differentiation between those characters.

One of the worse novels I’ve ever read was Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It was all those patronymic and matronymics that utterly confused me. The (English) edition I used included a dramatis personæ! Yet when reading J R R Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings or Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series I’ve been able to keep the characters separate with no need of a list of who’s who. In the case of Donaldson I read the first series a couple of decades before the second yet the characters were still “alive”.

Scrivener has various existing tools to help reduce that. Character templates being the most obvious. My preference is to collect all documents that feature a major character into a Collection. This lets me see them at a glance during revision and bring their personality into shape.

I think part of the decision of whether to include this depends on what kind of tone you’re going for. For example, Steven Brust uses these character guides in his Dumas pastiches (known as the Khaavren Romances), but not in the rest of the Dragaerea books – and it is in large part due to the voice of the narrator of each.

I personally feel that books that use this device are going for more of a “play”-like feel (that is, a stage play, not toys and unstructured free time, marvelous as those are). And while the inclusion of specific characters in such a list may be technically a spoiler, they can also be a cue to the reader that the journey in this story is less in the “who” and more in the “how.”