Do You Need That Character?

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by Mary Connealy

I’m doing an interesting and very educational thing with a book. The third book in the Kincaid Bride series which releases this August. Over the Edge, the crazy brother’s story. At my editor’s suggestion I’m taking out a character.

Not taking out a character like I’m a a HITMAN or something, that would be rude. No, my editor asked a very smart question, “Do we need this character?”

He didn’t say “Get rid of her.” He said “do we need her?”

So, I gave it a lot of thought. This is a secondary character and I know what motivated me to create her, but I mentally examined the book, thinking of scenes this character was in and I asked myself, what is it she does in this scene that will be hard to have someone else do?

I couldn’t think of a thing. Oh, she does stuff that someone else will have to do, but they can do it, easily.

So, because I was afraid to make such a drastic change in some way that was irreversible…what if I’d forgotten a scene and her existence proved crucial? I saved as a new document the book with a new name “Over the Edge without sister.”

And I started deleting. I’m about a third of the way through the book with this single goal (though I’m remembering the other requests from my editor but those aren’t my main focus now), get rid of the little sister. You know what? I haven’t missed her yet.

In fact, it’s been so SIMPLE to get rid of the sister that I’ve had a real AH HA moment and that’s what I want to share today.

How to decide if characters are necessary.

Have you ever been writing along and realized that you don’t remember where some of your characters went? Maybe they are in the room but they haven’t spoken or moved or in any way been pivotal to the scene for so long that you forgot all about them? I do this a lot.

I’ll admit here that it’s mainly with small children and babies. Babies are especially hard to manage because they have to be SOMEWHERE. They can’t just nap in another room all the time. They can nap a LOT but not all the time. So someone has to hold them and I have to remember who’s holding them. Babies are difficult.

Toddlers, my thing with toddlers is I’m always worrying about them staggering (toddling) into a hot fireplace. You’ve got to be careful about stuff like that.So toddlers are a little more interesting than babies but they’re also active. They move. You’ve got to keep track of them.

Let’s get away from little children. Do you have a (okay, this is cowboy talk but it applies) band of outlaws? How many? Who are they? Do I need a band or will one villain do for the whole book?

Do I have hired hands in the bunkhouse? Okay, we need some cowpokes in this book, but do they need an identity? Can one foreman speak for all the parts of the cowhands? So the bunk house can be full but there are no recognized, developed characters.

And there’s another thought. Developing characters. I knew how this sister felt. I knew what was going on with her. I knew her backstory. But how well developed was she really?

I remember reading a book for an aspiring author and at the end of it I said. ‘You’ve got three bad guys. But the way they come and go, you can combine them and only use one.”

“But,” my poor defenseless aspiring writer said, “It’s an older woman, a young woman and a middle aged man. I can’t combine them.”

Yes, they’re very different from each other but they all serve the same purpose and you’re cluttering up your book with a bunch of characters who enter a scene, need to be developed, then vanish only to go to the NEXT bad guy when it’s time for more trouble. I can’t keep up with your bad guys.”

Are there characters in your own work you can combine? Could you have one guy take over what three guys are doing?

You may have to change their voice–their dialogue. (You’d BETTER have to change their voice because each character should have his own) but you won’t have to change the ACTION hardly at all, just change who’s doing that evil thing.

I feared I’d need this sister for some scene so I’m glad I saved the original. But in the end, the only real work of cutting her is now I have to have punk brother who formerly said “us” and “We” and now he needs to say “Me” and “I” and that’s a lot of work. But it’s not changing the story at all.

You can pare away characters and simplify your book somethin’ fierce. (that sounds like cowboy talk, too!)

Of course you can’t get rid of your hero and heroine. But what about the rest of your characters? Are they just confusing. Do they clutter up a scene? Could you give your readers a break by tossing out a few of them?

Go pick a section of your manuscript and throw out a character and see if you even miss her.

What do you think? Do you have characters in your book that need to go?

Mary Connealy writes romantic comedy with cowboys. She is the author of the successful
Lassoed in Texas, Montana Marriages, and Sophie’s Daughters series. Calico Canyon was nominated for a Christy Award, Doctor in Petticoats was a finalist for a Rita Award. Mary is also a two time Carol Award winner.

Comments 0

  1. It’s a good exercise Joanne. All those secondary characters feel TRUE. I mean, a lot of life has multiple people in it. So it makes sense to have people around your main characters, but it can bog down the story.

  2. This was such fun to read! You are definitely quite a character and one we can’t do without! 🙂

    So does the deleted character just show up in the third book? We haven’t seen her yet?

    I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with Seth. He just about drove ME over the edge a few times! LOL

  3. Hi Mary:

    You made my morning when I read this:

    He didn?t say ?Get rid of her.? He said ?do we need her?? Men in business have to talk like this to women! It doesn?t take them long to learn this. : )

    Also, I kept ?seeing? a Bible editor telling Mark, ?you don?t need all those apostles. Take the ones out that don?t do much of anything.? : )

    I think equations can go in both directions. Have you ever found that it would be best to turn one character into two different characters?

    Some characters are like expensive accessories: you don?t need them but it is a far more beautiful room with them in it.

    I?m going to go over my WIP today and see if I can take out any characters. Great post by the way.


  4. Umm. Excellant point. But my four secondary characters that save the heroine are as follows, a prostitute, a doctor, a nun and a priest. The nun becomes the protitutes BFF and confidente, the doctor runs the hospital where the heroine is locked away and the priest becomes the hospital chaplain and prays his way to find the heroine’s cell. In the basement. Of the hospital where the young doctor falls for the protitute who witnesses a murder and reforms and the priest finds her….perhaps you’ve picked up on the whole “woven together/each has a distinct role” thing. Beleive me, I have TRIED to cut one of them…can’t do it. Oh well, maybe…no, only one bad guy. Sigh. Perhaps *when* I get an agent and editor, they can help with that!

  5. This is a hard thing to do in writing, but you are so right about really needing a character.

    I’m working on a manuscript now that has a number of minor characters. They each appear in their own scenes as the hero travels home from a Yankee prison camp in 1865. He meets them on the journey, and I manage to tie them together so that what happens in one scene affects what happens on down the road. Not sure if that’s clear, but it’s been fun finding ways to connect the characters along the way.

    I love your books, Mary, as well as all of the characters you created. Looking forward to more.

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