How many characters does it take to make a good book? I’ve tried to read my way through this question for about a year now with not much success. I’ve tried to glean an answer from stories I’ve written in the past. Combing through the wisdom imparted by published authors has given me great insight just not on this particular subject I went in search of. This question presented at seminars has left me wanting.
Trying to answer my own question I ponder on the protagonist, the antagonist, the supporting character or two, and minor characters that reveal the plot. So it might depend on how many plot lines, how many problems or how much trouble I want my main character to get into. So, I thought, no less than four characters? I've also read about a protagonist being the antagonist fighting the trouble in his own head. That would technically be one. Back around to that same question again.
What I found is whether you have one or twenty characters they all have to have a reason to be there. But how do you know if they need to be there? I put my “crazy” hat on one day and asked my characters "If you were never born, how would the story change?" The ones that cough or stutter are out. If they don't have an immediate response, except for those characters that stutter as a regular means of communication, they're slashed.
I find this is also a good exercise to take out a character to see how the story flows. It strengthens my main character as he has to "find another way" out of the labyrinth. Sometimes I come up with good stuff. Other times I see a weakness in my writing. On rare occasions I see the true-life motive for my seemingly unconscious mind striving to work out a real-life problem.
When I'm done torturing my characters and they can have their scene back (or many times display the new torture scene) I'm left with my answer. How many characters does it take to make a good book? All of them. (All those left that is.)