Whether you work with an editor, a critique partner/group, or prefer to go it alone, editing can be a daunting task. I know for me it’s one of the most challenging parts of writing. And it becomes even tougher when you have a character that just isn’t pulling their weight
While you’re editing, let’s say you discover a cliché of a character has wandered into your scene, or one of your secondary characters is displaying some serious Mary Sue tendencies. Most of the time you can fix these little issues with one or two well-executed passes of edits. Other times though, you super awesome fun character isn’t really doing their job. They aren’t moving the story forward, helping—or hindering—the advancement of the plot. In short, they’re place holders that don’t belong. This is when you know it’s time to put up or shut up. Spend more time fixing, if it feels absolutely necessary, or it’s time for someone to be ripped from the pages.
Sometimes it’s painful to lose a character, so do what you need to here are the steps I go through if I find myself missing them a little too much.
Coping with Character Loss
1.) Keep a back-up. Instead of deleting every trace of them, open up a new file and put everything you cut from that character in the new file. That way if you decide later on your original decision was a mistake, or you get nostalgic and want to say hi again, you can always go back. But not now. Now you need to push to the next step.
2.) Move forward. Keep editing, work through the story without that character.
3.) Repeat. Two edits are usually better than one. The first pass will go over the big things, number two is to iron out the wrinkles.
4.) Stuck? When it gets really hard, dig into your best stash of chocolate, pop a bottle of wine, or if you so desire, break out the tequila margarita mix and power through.
5.) The re-read. Once you’re done editing, read it though. Does it work better now without your dearly departed character? Hopefully so, if not, go back to your back-up and add him/her in where they need to go, then edit again.
6.) The Final Goodbye. If the last read through goes better without your missing character but you still feel badly or miss them, throw them a funeral. Put on your best pair of black sweats/yoga pants/pjs (from the writer’s wardrobe, of course), grab a flower from your yard and say a few nice things—then maybe a few not-so-nice things (you did have to cut them after all). When you’re done, put them to rest and take a day off.
7.) Repeat. In which I mean, always, always write more! Move on to your next project, brainstorm, prep your book for submission. Remember, it wasn’t your funeral. J
I hope some of these steps help you the next time you have to erase someone.