At some point, all writers have to do it. There’s a character you love, one that makes you laugh or cry. But alas, your story is getting too crowded and the plot too winding. You, beloved character, must go. Cut. Snip. Goodbye.
In the past year I’ve had to cut out three major characters from two manuscripts. Each time I was resistant and pouty. But when I finally did it, I realized my story didn’t miss the characters at all. In fact, it was stronger because they were gone. However, it can be hard to step back and realize that your characters need to be cut. Here are a few scenarios to look out for:
1. The final resolution could happen with or without her. No matter how big Jane’s role seems earlier in the story, if she gets a lot of screen time but her involvement in the story doesn’t actually affect the end result, chances are she doesn’t need to be there. Either that, or she needs to be more intricately woven into the story, so that she is part of the final resolution. (Note: This generally doesn’t apply to truly minor characters who are only there to serve specific smaller purposes.)
2. The character takes too much attention away from your main characters. Some minor characters are so charismatic that they want to take over the story. Don’t let them. While Jane’s witty puns might add a lot to a story, once her jokes start overshadowing your main character’s lines and making him/her seem boring or unlikeable, it might be time to cut (or at least cut down) Jane’s role.
3. Another character already serves the same purpose. One of my writing group members has a great saying: Pretend each of your characters is a guest at a potluck; are they each bringing something new to the table? She couldn’t be more right. You don’t want two of your characters bringing fruit salad, right? Jane’s fruity goodness is more than enough. So if your main character has three bubbly friends or two annoying siblings, make sure they each contribute something to the story that no one else could.
4. The character isn’t distinct enough from other characters. This is related to #3. If your characters aren’t distinct enough from each other, readers will tend to get them confused. In order for us to keep them all straight, remember to give them each individual voices and to have them serve different purposes in the story. If you keep getting feedback that your readers are having a hard time keeping all the character’s aunts straight, for example, the solution might be to cut out one or two of the aunts and use the remaining aunts to their full potential.
I’m sure there are lots of other scenarios where characters might need to be chopped from a story, but these are the main ones that came to mind. Now it’s your turn. Are there any other scenarios where you’ve encountered characters that needed to go?