How many characters is too many?
I'm currently reading Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon and the amount of characters is making my head spin. Another one of my favourite authors who loves piling on characters (and then killing them off) is Martin.
These two writers however tend to write epics so a fair chunk of the book (call it a mini-book) is devoted to a single character (ie. Tyrion who gets upward 60k words a book devoted to him). So, I think, in these cases the amount of characters is justified because a. the books are long and b. it's an epic story.
So to narrow down my question, how many characters per 10k words/chapter/section is acceptable?
The reason I ask is because I am currently working on a project that has 6 main protagonists and 3 main antagonists, and I introduce 6 of them in less 10k words, which is less than 1.6k words each.
Basically, I don't want to get into the situation I faced a lot when reading David Weber's Honor Harrington series where I didn't even know who half the characters were because there were just too many to keep track of.
Is it further to Boston or by bus?
Simple answer, actually. You have too many characters when the reader starts to lose interest. Why? Because readers like identifying and living through a good character, and not be derailed time and again by changes.
The most I've seen an author successfully juggle and keep that interest going is four characters - each getting their own chapter. Not a formula, just my observation. Oh, and the characters were each incredibly well written with serious depth, each capturing your attention in turn.
Not a path I'd choose for a beginning author without thinking real hard about it.