Cutting Unnecessary Characters

So…apparently I’m not only best friends with Was, Had, Could and There Are, and practically dating Passive Voice, but I’m also quite friendly with Unnecessary Characters. They visit me often.
I tried to do a little research on the subject of UC’s but Google failed me this morning. Hey…it’s really a first so I’m not holding a grudge πŸ˜‰
This is my experience with Unnecessary Characters.
First of all…My UC’s have no point in existing for any other reason than to deliver information.
BAD. REALLY BAD.

First scene…BAM…UC pops up to help me (the non-thinking writer) dump information through dialogue.
I know, I know…the horror. I should be exiled or something.
This is the thing…I know when I read through the scenes with UC’s that it’s just bad, lazy writing. And somehow…this doesn’t bother me in any other way than a little minor frustration. 
I’ve obviously thickened my skin as a writer because a year ago I would have crumbled into a mushy heap of struggling writer and cried till my eyes felt like dust. It would have equaled failure. Now it just means FIX IT.
So what do I do? Literally…the opening scene has a huge UC in it. I thought…”How clever. I’ll sneak in a little back story and a few physical descriptions of my MC this way. Mwahaha.”
Well…it ain’t clever. It’s actually very ICKY.
Since Google didn’t want to reveal anything to me this morning on the topic other than a listing of UC’s in Harry Potter, I reached for a few of my favorite books. 
I thought long and hard about them. Skimmed the pages. Searched for any evidence of UC’s lurking between the covers.
This is what I found:
THE BEST BOOKS HAD FEW, IF ANY, UNNECESSARY CHARACTERS. Everyone had purpose. 
And…NONE of the ones I chose had characters who showed for one scene, dumped info, and never returned again.
What does all this mean? One…I’ve been lazy. Two…I have a lot of freaking work to do. Three…A few character heads are gonna roll. And Fourth…I have to get creative.
I have to figure out how to reveal my MC’s true character by her actions ~ not only by how she’s viewed by others or by dialogue. Again…this goes back to stinking Show and Tell. In my very first scene, my MC does nothing but internalize her worry. Yes, you feel it in all her nervous actions, but that’s all she does. It’s set-up. And I suppose since it’s short, it’s okay. But, that ole UC is in there. 
They talk about her mom coming to visit (the cause of the worry) and he remembers her mom and he makes the comment on how much she looks like mom. (Later on when the MC describes mom the reader can connect the dots). Geez. It sounds even worse now! And then…he drops a few more lines that tell you what the MC does for a living and he sort of sets up for a disaster in the next scene.
FAIL.
But…in my defense…this writing gig is tough some days. We can’t TELL…as in…My dark hair blew in the wind or I’m a motorcycle mechanic. Or at least it’s not THE BEST way to go about delivering info. And since the story is first person POV, the supporting characters thoughts of the MC can’t be revealed unless verbalized.
My brain starts to feel fuzzy when I think about all that.
But that’s where good stories live. Not in fuzzy brains, but in writers who seek out the best way.
I’m actually happy that I can self edit and not feel failure. I only feel growth, because I can see the errors and I  have the tenacity to dig in, rip out the nonworking parts, and FIX IT.
However…I will take any advice you wonderful people want to share. Or articles. Or blog posts. πŸ˜‰
What about you? Have you ever been caught with Unnecessary Characters? Tell me your experience!!

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6 Comments

  1. Maybe my comment won't count as my books are still in production but I know exactly what you mean. I'm writing a series and have had to be brutal. If characters aren't needed, ditch them and go off on another tangent. 70% of my writing is direct speach and thoughts and it's been very interesting, I won't deny it. As the books follow on I have more MC that have an equal say as the first two in the first book. They all have to get along. I've had to be brutal or it wouldn't work as the books cover five genres and I'm referring back to previous books at times. I've gone on a bit, sorry but enjoyed your blog.

  2. Yay for you for learning and growing! I found I had two characters who served the same purpose, so I combined them. One thing that helps me is to visualize my characters on a stage, I'm writing a scene while watching everything unfold, what they do and say. Lots can be revealed if you view it like that.

  3. Ooh, I'm glad you wrote this post. I might have a few UC's rolling around in my WIP. Time to get the hatchet, and in the words of the Queen of Hearts: "Off with their heads!"

  4. Timely post. I have been contacted by a publisher who -after reading my full ms- have said if I cut a few POV they might be interested.

    A challenge to say the least!

  5. UC's can be useful in the first draft, under the rule of "JUST WRITE." After that, they either need to find a natural purpose or go bye-bye.
    There are those characters, though, that seem unneccessary and then turn out to be very important later on in the story. (Tricky Nolan! Brilliant Moffat! Clever Gaiman!!!)