Actual Writing Advice: Cutting Characters

On Friday before I wrote Spark Tally, I was disgruntled about my current story. It was taking far too long to get the protagonist away from her home, and I had these new side stories going on which I’d never intended. So I wrote Spark Tally, played Pathfinder and still wanted to throw the virtual manuscript in the trash.

In the morning I woke up to my weekly critique from my crit group. I didn’t even care. I read the comments though and they were fine. I needed more sensory details and such. But I knew they didn’t touch the core of my problem. If only I knew what that problem was.

And then it hit me. I needed to cut a character.

Which meant 37,000 words shredded.

In my experience, there’s nothing an author hates to hear about their story more than “You need to cut a character.” Whenever I suggest it to someone, I always want to add, “Don’t hate me. I’ve had to cut loads of characters in my time. It’s really for the best.” But I never say that.

Writers get attached to their characters. The first time I used the current story I’m writing in a class, the teacher told me I really didn’t need all the brothers. They cluttered the story without adding anything. “But what about the Weasleys?” I wanted to cry. JK Rowling has several characters in her stories that don’t really do much. At the very least she could’ve combined the two oldest Weasley brother’s into one.

But I cut them—all but one. And magically, that swept away a whole lot of problems. I saw more clearly what I really wanted to focus the story on.

The current character I’m cutting, I’ve introduced to the story in various ways and guises. He really belongs in the second book, and I don’t know why I keep trying to introduce him in the first book. Maybe to give the main character one friend she can trust. But even though she really could use one friend, he’s not helping the story at all. He’s distracting from her brother’s story, introducing subplots that don’t belong and delaying her departure. He needs to go.

It wasn’t hard for me to delete him like it was the brothers several years ago. Some writer’s talk about their character’s being their babies, but they’re not. They’re fictional constructs. And as fictional constructs, you can reincarnate them in other stories. In fact, if you really like a character, then make a whole book around her.

Cutting characters is about being a mature writer. It’s about seeing the big picture. The worst part for me was all those words lost. It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten so far into a book before I realized a character had to go. And he wasn’t a minor character. He was major.

I’m 5000 words into the new manuscript already and so much happier. My fingers need to fly because I want to get this done before the kids are out of school. That means at least 20,000 words to write this week. I’ll let you know how it went on Friday :)