An urban fantasy I read recently got me to thinking about how much viewpoint might influence the number of people in a novel, as well as the management of the cast. The UF was, as most are, in first person, but it had a thriller storyline. Most UFs are done as private detective novels–an individual with magic investigates crimes. Sometimes they work for agencies that protect society, but the number of characters that the main character interacts with is often pretty limited.
With this story, it involved a secret government agency and a huge cast to accommodate the story’s events. Probably about fifteen actively participating characters, many at the same time. More than 2/3s through the book, and I still had trouble remembering who was who. I don’t have that problem with thrillers that have casts of fifty. Why this one?
I think the viewpoint contributed to the problem. First person tends to be up close and personal. But that becomes tricky when the cast is large, because everything is through that narrator’s eyes. My last story was in omniscient, and five was my stopping point. I put a sixth in, and I tended to have trouble getting the character to interact. With first person, the same number of characters seemed more like visual clutter, all vying for a place in the story. It could be that the writer had trouble managing the characters, too.
What do you think? How many characters can you manage at one time in first person?