Killing Off A Character

Most novels begin with too many characters. Some writers, who have a knack for unusual cool character names, trot every one of them out in a novel’s first chapter.
Writing Tip for Today: You’re midway through your first draft and suddenly it hits you: your cast of thousands needs trimming. What are some things to think about if you need to kill off a character?

  • Does the Character Alter the Story? If the character in question is removed, is the story line of the protagonist affected? If the answer is no, consider axing that character.
  • No Dialogue, No Name. If your character doesn’t have much in the way of a speaking part, that character doesn’t really need a name at all. He/she can be policeman, nurse, fifth grader, whatever.
  • Uppity Sidekicks. Supporting characters can sometimes try to steal the protagonist’s thunder. What often occurs is that a novelist’s secondary character is so unique and colorful that it makes the main character seem boring. These sidekick characters usually need to be restrained or in some cases, whacked altogether.
  • Composite Characters. See which of your secondary characters could be combined. The fewer characters the reader must keep track of, the better experience for the reader.
  • Intro New Characters Slowly. Limit the introduction of new characters to one or two in a scene or a chapter. Give the reader time to cement these new characters in mind. Most novels do not bring in important new characters past the midpoint of a novel.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Killing Off A Character

  1. I did have to eliminate a character in a book when I completely re-wrote the manuscript. It’s hard, but the worse was when I had to kill off my 13-year-old female character and replace her with a 13-year-old male character–Yikes!

    Felt like I was bumping off one of my kids! Thanks for the advice, Linda!
    Aloha! –Cheryl

  2. Chryl, At least you were willing to “bump” off the ones who needed it. Maybe you’ll “resurrect” that character for a future story? Thanks for stopping by! ~Linda

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