Monday, April 12, 2010

Bye, Bye, Bye

So, I've been working on the end of The Thief Book. I've tapped out several scenes. Some are basically old scenes just retouched to fit the new details, others are accomplishing the same objectives as old scenes but are not the some, and one or two are entirely new scenes to blend it all together to fit the new ending.

But, the other day, when I flipped through my old draft to recapture mentally the objective of that scene, I noticed something. The two characters in the scene were Prince Leo (Love Interest Guy/Chief of Police) and Prince Drake (Heir to the kingdom/Leo's elder brother). That's when it hit me, Drake was redundant. See, Leo already has a little brother, Fisk, who is philosophical and special, and who had already been introduced into the story. And, quite frankly, they were filling the same role: sounding board for Leo's ideas/make Leo smarter than he is, because sometimes he's stupid and set in his ways.

Okay, in my mind, Drake and Fisk were not the same guy. Drake is a traditionalist, so he doesn't understand Charlotte (MC girl) either, but he's also highly pragmatic, which sometimes goes against Leo's insistence on obeying the rules no matter the cost. Fisk is philosophical, which makes him more likely to understand Charlotte's perspective, and he's more likely to think Leo's strict adherence to the rules is a bit cracked. So, they both counter Leo in a way I like.

But, they're both countering Leo. They're both achieving the same objective. Which means I don't need both of them. And, since I've already introduce Fisk, and I enjoy his moral flexibility (if I'm not a fan of his name), I'm keeping him.

Sad for Drake.

Okay, I've snipped characters from stories before, from this story in fact. However, this time feels like the first time, to me. Probably because this is the first time I cut a character who played a large part and who I'd actually envisaged in the tale and intentionally wrote in. I'll miss Drake. He was a nice bloke, in his way. Unfortunately, I'm playing Master of the Universe, and I have to be brutal.

This is going to sound a little cold, but characters in books must serve a function. And, it should be a unique function, otherwise they're not just taking up space without adding anything to what's going on.

Now I'm going to draw a comparison to Harry Potter, because I really like Harry Potter, and I've discovered it's an almost universal point of comparison and understanding. Hermione and Ron are both Best Friend characters. However, they don't fulfill the same function, even in that role. Hermione is the smart one who gives Harry wise advice and information that he wouldn't otherwise have but really needs. Ron provides camaraderie, support/back-up, and the male perspective on all issues. And they both, at one point or another (and often at the same time), provide conflict and drama. They fulfill different functions, so they both belong in the text.

Do you guys have much experience cutting characters? How did it make you feel? Have you ever run across characters that you found redundant? How did that make you feel?


  1. I just combined two characters into one in much the same way that you did. It was hard at first, but my story is so much tighter because of it.

  2. I've cut characters in the past and depending on how major of a character they were, it was really hard. It felt like I was ending a friendship in some cases.

  3. Great post. Characters shouldn't be too similar - and they each need to have a unique function. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. I had to combine two characters into one in my first book. Now I'm looking at doing the same thing in the second book. It hurts a little, but makes the story stronger!

  5. I tried it; I tried to prune back one of Jess' friends in NEAR EDGWARE - it would have been easy in this book - but they all have defined roles for later. I spent an afternoon look to see what it would look like without her and an evening wishing I hadn't.

  6. Fantastic post Dominique! And something to definately think about. I have cut characters before but only secondary ones. I don't think I've ever merged one. That could be interesting in this current WIP, we'll see how it goes. Thanks for this.

  7. I've had an almost identical experience with "cutting" a character. My villain in my last book was originally two characters, and I ended up combining them into one. Splitting them into two different people weakened the story, as do any extraneous characters who don't fulfill a specific role, or are doubling up on a role.

    Role functions are essential to get right in storytelling, and in fact, I will argue that role functions are what make the story - not plot.

    I applaud you for seeing what your story needed and having the guts to do it.

  8. The way I deal with cutting characters, is I imagine them somewhat like actors. I always store them away for future use.
    It's easier to say 'Sorry, better luck next time,' or 'This isn't working. I'll keep you in mind for future roles,' than to say 'I'm sorry, you don't fit this story. You shall now be eliminated from the universe' :P

  9. I've had to cut several characters before and you're right. If they didn't serve a function, they had to go. Great post!

  10. Susan -- I'm glad you're making progress with your story.

    Windy -- That sounds like it hurt. I hope I never have to cut a character I care about that much.

    Talli -- I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    Stephanie -- I concur. I hope your second book is going well.

    Elaine -- It's okay to have a lot of characters floating around, so long as they all come to a purpose. If it seems that impossible to cut the character, you probably shouldn't.

    Piedmont -- I'm glad you found the post useful. I wouldn't call what I'm doing merging, so much as passing the buck from one guy to the other. Hope the new WIP is going well.

    Glamis -- Thanks. I have to agree with you that role functions are mega-important. The function is how readers keep track of the characters and why they should care about said characters.

    Vader -- I agree. I've done that before. I cut about six minor characters earlier in the process, and I rather liked them, so I told them "I'll keep you in mind for a later role." It's definitely easier that way.

    L.T. -- I agree, function matters. I'm glad you found the post helpful.