Monday, April 7, 2014

The Darker Side of Cutting Characters by Margo Kelly

Is every single character in your story important? Are you sure?

Here’s an exercise to determine the depth of your characters:
On strips of paper, write the names of every single character mentioned in your manuscript (except for the protagonist and antagonist). Put the strips into a bowl and mix them up. Pull out one strip at a time and answer these questions:

1.     What is the most outrageous thing this character does in the story?
2.     What is the driving emotion behind this character?
3.     What does this character strive to achieve within the plot?
4.     How does this character provide conflict in the story?
5.     How is this character different than the protagonist?
6.     Who in the story’s cast of characters is the complete opposite of this particular character?
7.     Who is similar to this character?
8.     Could this character be combined with a parallel character within the story?
9.     What would happen if this character had never been born in the world of your manuscript?
10.  Would his/her absence change the plot?
11.  Would the protagonist suffer from never having known this character?
12.  Are there other characters in the story that would simply pick up the slack and move the plot forward in the absence of this character?
13.  Why does this character matter?
14.  What does this character do to earn his/her spot in the story?
15.  Why do you want to keep this character in your manuscript?

Secondary characters must strive to earn their spot in the manuscript; otherwise they’re taking up unnecessary space, and most likely, they’re forgettable.

This is the dark truth.

If you cannot handle eliminating a needless secondary character, then you will have to dig deep to make him/her matter. By utilizing the questions above, you will be able give your secondary characters depth and importance.

Margo Kelly writes thrillers for young adults, and her debut novel WHO R U REALLY? will be published by Merit Press in 2014.  Follow her blog at for the latest news on the cover reveal and publication information. You can also follow @MargoWKelly on Twitter.


  1. I love this exercise! It can be so hard to part with a character but we just have to when they aren't essential. Thank you for the great idea!

  2. yes, so specific and detailed! I just cut one of my all-time favorite characters from my book in the final draft because he just wasn't moving things forward...painful but necessary!

  3. It can be hard and painful - but it makes the final story so much tighter!