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LIMBUS: BY THE NUMBERS

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

A while ago I was asked the question, who is the main character of your story?


Now, there are many reasons why I won't answer that directly. For one, I consider every character with multiple PoV's (Points of view) a "main character". Also, if one were significantly more important than the others, I wouldn't spoil that information so nonchalantly.


Having said that, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to break down the presence of different characters in the first book scientifically (kinda)!


While I won't go into the specifics of plot, if you haven't read the first book yet, this post will reveal how many chapters each character has and discusses elements of my writing process, so consider yourself warned.


THIS BLOG POST WILL CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1


GROUP PROJECT

First off, I found the word count of every PoV chapter, then calculated what percentage of the book's total word count each PoV character contributed.


The total word count for book 1 is approximately: 111,860 words* (similiar to 'The Golden Compass' by Phillip Pullman)


There are 13 characters with PoV's in book 1, but I only named those with more than 2 chapters (6 characters), with the rest being combined into the "other" category (7 characters, Roach being the only one with 2 PoV's).


Here is a pie chart of the results:

(*I did this with a slightly outdated draft but I doubt that any results are off by more than 100 words, which wouldn't affect the final percentages.)


As you can see from this colourful pie chart, Owen and Shiva together make up over half of the total words, while Wolf and Emerald are a step below them around 15%. Rounding it out we have Geoffrey and Karth at around 5%, with another 5% comprised of novelty PoV's.


I was actually very satisfied with this split, as no character is too dominant, but there is still a distinction between those that are part of the group driving the story and secondary characters like Geoffrey and Karth who are in pursuit (though I was surprised by how little Karth features, I think that just goes to show how much of an impact he makes when he does appear)


I then compared the total word count each character had and divided it by the number of PoV chapters they had in the book to find the average length of each characters PoV's.


That made for a total of 94 PoV chapters, with the average chapter length being ~1,190 words (which is quite brief, though I combine these PoV's together to make up major chapters, which are an average length of 11,816. For context, normal chapter lengths are about 1,500- 5,000 words, though there is no hard and fast rule for this)


Here were the results:

The graph isn't dissimilar from the word count graph, except Wolf and Shiva have exactly the same number of chapters.


I wasn't surprised by this as Wolf's chapters are intentionally shorter than others, with an average chapter length below 1000 words, though I did find it interesting Shiva was the character with the longest average chapter length (she also had the longest individual PoV at 3264 words). I think this is probably because all the Resistance and Gutters stuff make her chapters more complicated to write.


The novelty PoV's are the shortest in the series, because their purpose is often to add a bit of spice or mystery (the shortest PoV is one of these "secret" characters, denoted by ... titles, at only 115 words).


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

I thought a different way to approach this was to see how often each character was referred to by name. This would also indicate how prevalent side characters who don't have PoV's are in the story. I did this by using the "find" function of MS word (this also counts the form: Owen's, Shiva's ect.)

Results for selection of characters. Major PoV's are capitalised.

Wolf has risen again, second place on this list by a wide margin over Shiva. This is evidence of a deliberate decision I made early on: I sometimes avoided Wolf's PoV because spending too long inside his fragmented mind can become tiring to read, but that doesn't mean he isn't a driving force in the story.


Conversely, Karth is low down the list because he is generally the most separate PoV and thus doesn't have a supporting cast calling out his name.


Jacob is the most frequently named none PoV character, appearing as many times as Emerald in the story, which goes to show how important he is to Wolf (and how obsessed Wolf is with trying to find him).


You might notice the President isn't on this list, and that is because how characters refer to him (deliberately) differs. He can be "President, Perch (also a word by itself!), Vincent, or sometimes all at once: President Vincent Perch, making it very difficult to find an accurate count (I estimate he is mentioned between 100 and 200 times)


CONFUSING YOUR CONCLUSIONS

So based on all this, Owen is the main character, right? The book has his name on the front cover after all!


Before you reach that conclusion, allow me to throw a few out a few asterixis.


*This is the first book of a planned trilogy, and you might have noticed that based on this analysis, there seems to be 3 primary PoV's (Owen, Shiva, Wolf). Is this a coincidence?

Perhaps, you will just have to wait to find out...


*There are also many factors that this analysis doesn't really cover. Namely, how do you define a main character?


*A "main character" could be described as the character who connects the most people together, and if I were to do a social network analysis of all the named characters, I reckon Shiva would likely be the one in the middle.


*This analysis also only covers word counts and PoV chapters. But by a third of the way through the story most of the PoV characters have joined together! On occasions where characters inhabit the same space, the PoV I decide to write from is based off who I think is the most interesting lens to view that event through, and that isn't always the same as who is actually the main focus for that part of the story.


*This especially applies to Wolf due to how I stylized his PoV's: sometimes it was too difficult to get across information via his staccato abbreviated perspective, so I would rewrite the scene through the eyes of someone else. I also found he was often more interesting when observed from afar: his volatility and impulsiveness create tension when you don't know what is going on in his head, so can't predict what he is going to do next. In this way he is often the driver of conflict and action, which sounds very much like a way you could describe "the main character", does it not?


*This analysis also covered the whole of book 1, but if I were to the same method for each of the 10 chapters individually, the rankings would change drastically every chapter.


*So while Emerald, Geoffrey and Karth might seem like secondary main characters, they wouldn't be PoV's unless they had an important role to play in the story. Also, they are introduced a bit later in the book, so start at a word and chapter count deficit compared to Owen, Wolf and Shiva, which means nothing is stopping them from becoming the eventual main characters of the story.


*Finally, I have actually done this analysis with my current draft of book 2, and these results don't stay static (make of that what you will).



SICK OF STATISTICS

At the end of the day who the main character is doesn't really matter, what matters is whether the characters or the story are any good! While you might not like all of them, my goal was to have enough diversity that everyone could connect to someone. At least in the small amount of feedback I've received I like to think I achieved this: one person's favourite character is Emerald, while I know someone else who hates her guts.


If you stuck through this thanks for indulging my data spew! I often get obsessed over infographics, ratings and the like. I think this experiment was affirming for me that I do balance out my ensemble so no-one is dominant but there is plenty of variety.


My goal as the writer is to make every character fulfil their role in the story as efficiently as possible. For someone like Karth I could have sworn I wrote more than 4 PoV's, but hopefully that just means I made every word count!


I'm still working away on book 2 and 3, and imagine I will do this again when they eventually release. Book 2 is almost there, so you will be hearing from me soon-ish!


Craig Arthur



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