In every story, there are main characters and then there’s everyone else. Sometimes those other characters are just there to fill space and don’t have names. And then there are those other characters who have names, lines, and even contribute to the advancement of the story.
And every so often, there are those other characters with names and lines who play no role in the overall story. Very frequently, readers don’t mind those characters because they stay in the background and in real life, we encounter plenty of people who have names and speak to us but have no effect on our life story.
I am one of those people who are super picky about excess characters in a story. Every character needs to play some role in the story, because stories are not real life. Stories- whether tv shows, books, movies, etc.- are all about details. If something is mentioned, it better be worth mentioning. Otherwise, you’re wasting your audience’s time.
First you need to identify whether or not the character plays an actual role in the story-
- Do they advance the plot?
- Do they influence the main character?
- What would be missing if they were removed from the story?
What do you do when you find excess characters in your story?
- Delete them.
- Make them important.
Technically, there’s a third option- ignore it because you don’t care. But for me, there are really only those 2 options.
Currently in editing Powerful, I’m at a place where I realize this one character’s role in the story is almost nonexistent and it’s really bothering me.
Tenio, Kyla’s cousin, is second in line for the throne. He attends Floures in case Kyla’s eligibility for the throne is threatened. So he holds a role in the story. A very important one, because Kyla struggles with the fact that he might be a better ruler than she could ever be. But I think in the whole story, he speaks maybe 4 lines. So what do I do with him?
I could leave things as they are. It’s not necessarily a problem in my story. So far, he’s received positive feedback. But that doesn’t fix anything, and it’ll keep bugging me.
I could give fit him into more scenes from the story and give him more lines so he holds a bigger role. It solves one problem that one reader had with Kyla’s family, which is good. But it also creates another problem. If I make him more important, then Brinlea (Kyla’s other cousin) loses her role in the story.
I could erase Brinlea, and have Tenio fill in her role in the story. It would solve the problem that people have with Brinlea’s character, and give Tenio a bigger part in the story. It’s an awful lot of work, but it’s the top running solution right now. Tenio could easily fill the whole that Brinlea would create in the story, greatly increasing his role in the story. There are some elements to the story that would be lost (Brinlea’s character has an interesting arc), but not enough to bother me.
There are a lot of possible solutions to consider when it comes to the problems excess characters create, and there isn’t one solution that is “better” than the others. They all take time and work. But work is the only way to write better stories.