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What do you do when a character isn’t working?

Posted by Maria Murnane | June 27, 2016

When I finished the first draft of my most recent novel Wait for the Rain, there was one character who just didn’t fit into the story the way I’d imagined–or hoped–that she would. I liked a lot about her, however, so I wasn’t sure what to do. At a loss, I turned the manuscript in, eager to see what my editor thought.

My editor’s suggestion? Cut out Character A, and give her most valuable contributions to other characters.

I loved that idea! And you know what? It wasn’t that difficult to implement. When I reread the manuscript, I was easily able to identify the things Character A did (or said) that I liked the most. Then I copied those elements and attributed them to other characters. For example:

  • Character A had a nurturing quality that I really liked. In one scene she helped a victim of a jellyfish sting. In the revision I simply had Character B jump in and assist instead. (This worked well because Character B was similar to Character A in that way.)
  • Character A had several lines that made me laugh out loud, so I gave those lines to Character C, who also had a pretty good sense of humor.
  • Character A’s style of dress was, I don’t know, cool. I didn’t want to lose that, so I gave her fashion sense to Character C, who was pretty cool herself.

It was definitely strange to watch Character A disappear after months of working on the story, but I have no doubt that her exit greatly improved the book. I also learned from this process that sometimes when I write multiple characters, their personalities tend to overlap. (That is something I now try to avoid from the get-go.)

The deeper you get into a manuscript, the harder (and scarier) it is to make major changes. But it can be done. The key is to be willing to let characters go if they’re not working out. And if there are parts of those characters that you adore, let them live on somewhere else.



This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2016 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.


5 Responses to “What do you do when a character isn’t working?”

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  • E Lloyd says:

    Hello Maria, Some really great insights there thanks. I am an up-coming writer, recently published a couple of books on Createspace/Amazon, which I’m somewhat satisfied with how they turned out. The issue is, after ordering fifty of each and manage to sell nearly all, I discovered a few errors and oversights which I promptly went back to rectify at Createspace/Amazon. Question is; should I go back to as many of my readers who has purchased and try to replace those or just inform them and let them decide? Thanks



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