General · Writing

Edits 101: Cutting Characters

Hey guys,

So we are back with another ‘edits’ post and this time we will be discussing something that many people, myself included, struggle to do.

Kill their characters… 

Killing off your characters can happen at two points; either within your story or before anyone even reads it. It can serve a plethora of purposes, to remove unnecessary characters or to make the characters you have more defined. It can be a power plot point, or it could be a gentle reminder that your characters can die in this world and they are not safe.

For whatever reason, I always runs through these 4 questions before killing a character!

Will the story still make sense if the character wasn’t there? 

In some stories, you could remove the main character and the story would still run the same. The same things would happen and the result would be the same. Take for example Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, if you took Dr Jones out of the situation, the story would happen exactly the same way.

This is something you want to avoid. If it’s your main character, then maybe you have some serious rethinking about their role and if they are the main character, but when you’re reading through, and a secondary character appears but they don’t add anything but bulk to a chapter, its time to start thinking about trimming the fat.

What does the character bring to the story? Plot? Sense of reality? A disadvantage? 

Knowing what each character brings to the story as a whole, and each scene, is important. When you know this, you know how much play-room you have with them. You know when they can shut up and move to the background, and you know when they need to be right there with your main character.

For me, I always keep a file detailing all of these; who they are and what role they play.

Can any of the other established characters provide this same function? 

Once you understand what each character brings to the table, you start to see patterns. Maybe you have three characters that all make your main character feel vulnerable, or you have two characters that provide the same type if inspiration to keep going.

When you see these, you can see which characters you can merge. This means taking two characters, mashing them together and finding a super-character at the end of it. This can be tricky to do, especially in the editing phases as you have to go back and re-write every scene that have either character in, but at the end, it is worth it. Mainly because you will have a stronger cast of characters.

What happens if this character dies? 

Now we are looking at within the story itself, what if this character starts but then dies half way through? What effect will it have on the plot? On the main character? Does how they die really impact the outcome or is it purely that they are not there any more?

Killing a character off is not the only way to make them disappear; say for example, you have a troop on an adventure. But you cant have the mage with them for a battle scene because it would make the battle too easy; you can either kill the mage off, or potentially send the mage off on their own separate route to meet up later on.

Killing a character within a story is a definitive point, everything changes from there, however when editing your work you might think; ‘actually he could die three chapters earlier in this scene, it would make this bit even harder’ or ‘maybe if she died later in chapter 20, it would make the reality of the situation hit harder for the main character’. The timeline is yours to play with.

So those are my go to questions when I start thinking about killing off my characters. What do you ask yourself when you’re editing? Let me know in the comments below!

Helen

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