Writing Challenge #16 focused on using organic metaphors to lend your minor characters more personality. This one is about the opposite–dealing with too many minor characters.
Is your novel-in-progress full of bit players who are sitting around doing very little to advance the story? If so, you might want to combine a few of them or use your author eraser and make the ineffectual ones disappear.
Often we invent new characters to pop up and resolve a story problem or to deliver an important piece of information. These can bump a reader out of the story because they’re not developed, they act like cliches, or, worse, they are confusing due to other minor characters with similar roles or similar names.
Sometimes it’s necessary to get rid of a major character. A number of years ago, I learned a huge lesson when my friend Julia Stoops decide to eliminate one of her point-of-view characters. (You can read more about that in her Seven Questions interview.)
Here’s today’s challenge. Pick a character in your work-in-progress, and use these questions to evaluate whether that person is necessary to your story:
- How does this character move the plot forward? If you’re looking to remove a major or semi-major character, write a rough synopsis of your plot. How often does that character show up and do something important?
- Look at a few scenes involving your character and the protagonist. Does your protagonist come away from the scene feeling better, worse, or the same about the situation? If the answer consistently is “the same,” then think about eliminating the character or changing him/her into a more active participant.
- How does this character affect the antagonist and the other characters in the novel?
- Are there other characters performing the same role that your character plays? Can you combine two people who perform similar roles?
Thanks to jmmcdowell for inspiration! She commented on the last challenge about her recent experience with editing out excess characters, and that’s what prompted this challenge.