Second Draft Character Cuts

How to make those gut-wrenching character cutting decisions that will ultimately enhance your story.

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I finished the first draft of my current novel a little over two years ago now (yes, I write slowly). Due to the experience I have gained through attending local writing groups and events, and the number of published fictional books I have managed to consume over the last 24 months, I’ve decided I am ready to write the second draft of my story from memory. I chose this memory technique because I heard it allows writers to recall all the advice, details and scenes that are worth remembering and to lose all the parts that are easily forgotten or that no longer fit the story, via the filter each writer develops over time through experience.

This filter I’ve developed—as well as spending over a year away from my novel—has allowed me the insight to realise the necessity of cutting two main characters from my plot. I had at first felt these characters to be monumental and irreplaceable, and 18 months ago the mere thought of losing them would have left me with palpitations—but recently I saw the need to take a long hard look at all of my characters and ask myself the following two questions:

1. Would the plot play out the same without them?

The ‘do they influence the plot?’ question is such an obvious one to ask and my immediate answer to it was ‘no,’ but by giving this question a little more thought I realised the plot driving roles of each of these two characters could be handed to, or spread out between, the other characters. This meant the characters in question were not personally influential to the plot, and therefore could be cut.

2. If they were no longer in the story would the remaining characters be stronger, more interesting and more diverse?

Adam, my male stereotypical anti-hero who I envisioned to be a beautifully rugged combination of Daryl from The Walking Dead and Dean from Supernatural, is my first character cut. Adam had a tendency to accidentally show up just at the right time to help the others when they were in a pickle, which made his appearances predictable and in turn would allow readers to feel at ease in situations where I want emotions of anticipation, tension and dread to be rife. Without Adam turning up to save the day the other characters will all need to find a way to get themselves out of some very tricky situations, which will allow their physical and mental strength to be developed, as well as giving more opportunity to test their moral compasses and further develop them as a whole.

My second cut is Caitlyn, the stereotypical bitchy, up-herself and spoilt teenage girl. Her disappearance between my first and second draft will allow for a rather bland but necessary character, who was seriously lacking in depth, to take on much of her cunning, envious and selfish characteristics.

I’m aware that both Adam and Caitlyn already exist in plenty of fiction because they are extremely stereotypical, which meant developing them further would have been quite difficult. However, getting through the first draft of a novel can be challenging, and when it’s the very first novel you have tried to write it can seem almost impossible. Without these two predictable stereotypes to light the way while I climbed the mountain of my first draft I may never have finished.

Cutting characters has given me a new energy and excitement to write my second draft and explore the new challenges, developments and possibilities that will need to occur in my remaining characters.

We all make mistakes in our writing and these mistakes must be made in order for us to grow and develop. Although I might not need hunky Adam and bitchy Caitlyn in my second draft, I know I couldn’t have got this far without them.

 

If you have just finished your first draft of your first ever novel then let it stew a while—gain feedback from readers and fellow writers on your plot, read plenty of similar book and plenty of completely different book to your story, and experiment with writing techniques via short stories, flash fiction and even tiny micro stories. Allowing a little time to put some distance between yourself and your story—while continuing to develop your writing knowledge and skill—will put you in the right head space to look at your characters with much less bias. Ask yourself with each and every character if the story could be the same without them, and if the remaining characters would be more interesting and well-rounded as a result of their absence.

With the cut of two of my main characters, I now cannot wait to see how the remaining characters develop and grow, and the plot surprises these changes bring, throughout my second draft.

Rebecca Delphine is an aspiring Young Adult author from Thanet.

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