Someone pointed out to me that my book has 30 characters and that could be a problem.  If it were War and Piece, that's one thing; but my novel will probably be about 300 pages.  Of course, many of these characters are cops, assorted thugs, etc. 

I've excised one character but can't see how I can get rid of more.  Any ideas about this?

There are exceptions: Cormac McCarthy's Suttree has a zillion characters but he somehow gets it to work.

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Do you remember The Big Sleep? The movie, not the book. It had way too many characters and it left the audience feeling confused and frightened. They'd come in and out, and there was never any time spent on them, so they all tended to blend together. The book had the exact same amount of characters - but they were well drawn and independant from the story. They weren't really characters in a sense, they were people who happened to be a part of the plot. By making them seperate in the reader's mind, Chandler made sure that the reader could keep track and not get confused when a name was dropped or a new character was introduced.

I reckon if you're absolutely dead-set on the amount of characters you have, make sure they are seperate individuals, rather than generic ones: the token black guy, the angry feminist, etc. Make sure the reader believes who these characters are so that they won't get confused when you bring them up again.

Cheers,
Jess
I'm too lazy to go back and count, but I'm guessing both of my novels have around thirty characters (or so), with cores of six or seven principles and lots of little bit parts. It works because my detective spends a lot of his on-screen time in both books tooling around Provincetown interviewing people. Also because I go to great lengths to draw interesting/distinctive/memorable characters, big and small. It's not the number that matters, I don't think, as much as what you do with them.
War and Peace, I mean (Jeesh)
I have 28 characters in my first mystery novel, Null_Pointer, and it's less than 300 pages. Nobody has complained. The number surprised me when I added them up. Sounds to me like you are on track. I wouldn't worry about it.
If they are important to plot keep them. When it comes to adapting to film they may chop a lot out, but hey thats thats the screenplay writer problem.
I keep the focal point tight. A low character count means I don't confuse myself, which I'm prone to do. And if I'm not confused, the reader probably isn't either.
Well, yes, that's part of the general effort to keep the material manageable for slow readers and people unwilling to pay attention to anything. Fall-out from TV watching, I guess.
Use the characters you need not only to tell the story but to make the world of the novel believable.
You know, I really take exception to this ongoing characterization of genre readers as inattentive, lazy and dumb. That really hasn't been my experience, at all. No offense to you, IJ--but seriously. Dissing your own (potential) readers is both unfair and unwise. If people don't find my books sufficiently engaging it's my fault, not theirs.
Hey, I take offense to this ongoing characterization of TV watchers as inattentive, lazy and dumb.

In the past ten years there have been more TV shows with ensemble casts, interconnecting plotlines spread over many seasons and complicated themes than most novels. And those would be "genre" shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood and so on.

It's really time we stopped taking the easy way out and blaming TV.
On commercial TV I'm a big fan of The Office, though we never get to watch it, and I love The Daily Show and Colbert, which probably run neck and neck for funniest stuff in popular culture. I adored The Sopranos and suspect I'd like Deadwood and The Wire if I ever got around to watching them--we don't have HBO (too freakin' expensive) so we'll have to get them from Netflix. My wife likes the Food Network. I just like food. But other than those things, the great majority of TV programming does seem to be utter soul-killing, IQ-obliterating crap, intended to zombify the viewing audience. I don't think, though, that indulging moderately in the guilty pleasures bad TV affords actually makes people stupid, as long as they do other stuff with their brains, too.
Take a look at 'Fringe' on Fox. If you liked X-Files, you'll love Fringe.
But what if you didn't like X-Files?

Sure, "Great majority." That applies to everything. Isn't that Sturgeon's Law, or something? 80% of everything is crap. Or really, 80% of everything just isn't for me.

I don't think TV is any more dumbed-down than books - the top few in every category are really good and the majority aren't for me.

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