Cutting out characters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Eastwatcher, Feb 19, 2018.

  1. Eastwatcher

    Eastwatcher Apprentice

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    Hi guys and girls

    I'm at the stage now with my novel that I'm just trying to polish it off. You know, ensure continuity within character personalities, making sure each situation works as logically as possible, and most importantly, reducing the gods cursing word count. I've already removed the entire last third of my novel to reduce the overall word count to 200,000, but now I've hit a problem.
    The most consistent piece of advice every writer and writing forum gives me is to cut out anything that doesn't progress the storyline, which I am doing. However, after cutting the last third of the novel away entirely, I realised there was a character who now doesn't actually have that much importance. I can practically lift him out of the book and have the other characters present do everything he brought to the storyline, and in doing so I could likely remove a good 10,000 words from the count. The one Beta reader I've had that has read my entire novel agrees that this would be a good idea. Now here is my issue. The character (called Pel) is in my opinion, and the opinion of one of my other Beta readers, one of the most interesting characters to read. The way he sees the world is so different and unique that the sections from his perspective (of which there are relatively few) are some of the most entertaining.
    So what should I do? Removing him could make the story progress faster and reduce the word count, but in doing so I lose a truly original character who some people might find incredibly relatable. A way around this would be to add to the current story and give Pel something that makes him relevant once more, but again that would increase the word count when, as a first-time author, I need to get it as low as possible to be in with any real hope of publication.
    What do you guys think? Every time I've had a similar issue and posted on the forum I've had some of the most amazing and helpful advice returned to me, so no pressure.

    Thanks in advance,

    Eastwatcher
     
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  2. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Mystagogue

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    EastwatcherEastwatcher if you have a list of features/backstory and attributes for Pel that you really like, but find the character is now less relevant based on the latest round of editing, you do have some options. Your own suggestion to rework the plot to keep Pel relevant is a great option. Other Scribes would likely suggest a "fushion" or blending of characters. Would your story still "work" for your needs if you combined the features of Pel by incorporating them into a relevant character, but ultimately eliminating the original (host) character for those traits/ back story?

    I'm not in the school of thought of prescribed or arbitrary word counts 'just because xyz', (there's exceptions to every rule, so why not just be exceptional) my own bias would say if there's enough substance to Pel that you like, try to keep the character by reworking. You're also allowed to have more than one version of a story in progress at a time. Work one copy with a better utilization of Pel, and another where Pel is eliminated or absorbed into other characters you are 100% sure won't be edited out. You'll find your way to the best option for your needs before you know it.
     
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  3. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    I will start with this: the 120k bias is real (it’s flexible, but real) for new authors and probably for pub’d authors unless their sales are good. For some it’s more than bias, it’s a rule... you’ll see various declarations about not accepting anything over 120 or 150k, these are two numbers which come up. But mostly, it’s a bias, not a law. Bias is easier to break than a law. But, you have a conundrum: the difference between 200 and 190 is probably not going to make a difference except perhaps on a psychological level of being under 200k, much like the price difference between $2.00 and $1.99, LOL.

    I don’t know your story or your writing, but there’re lots of ways to skin this cat. I’d have to see a writing sample to have a clue what could be cleaved (a 10-20% edit wouldn’t shock me, to be blunt, much pub’d work could have 10% edited out with shocking ease let alone most unpub’d work). Outside of that, there are two best notions. Err, maybe three.

    1: massage the story to get a pseudo-ending somewhere in the middle to give you two books.

    2: say screw the industry and self-pub if no one gives your big book the time of day. There are plenty of writers outearning the average traditionally pub’d authors, and if you prove above average, the publishers will notice and will find you.

    3: find a story editor and task them with putting it on the chopping block. This is tricky, because many editors serve the writer’s ego, but I’d also guess some would love the opportunity to take a machete to a story, LOL.

    A fourth and terrifying option would be to send someone like me a few chapters along with a chapter by chapter synopsis. I can be a brutal hard ass, just ask my book, heh heh.
     
  4. Ban

    Ban Staff Article Team

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    If this character is widely considered to be interesting, than you should keep it in. Ultimately what people look for in fiction is quality entertainment. Removing anything that adds good entertainment value is a bad move in my opinion. Better to let a story be a bit long.
     
    Eastwatcher likes this.
  5. pmmg

    pmmg Dark Lord

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    My suggestion is to put the cut section back in, split the book somewhere in the middle, and make it two books.

    I would further suggest, that if this one got away from you and is too large for a break-in first novel, put it on the shelf, write another one, and when you get some recognition, publish it then.

    Or, give a go and if it is ultimately rejected, self publish or do the above.
     
    Eastwatcher likes this.
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    I can't imagine cutting away a third of a book--especially the last third--and not have it make an utter mess of the rest of the novel. Compared to that, cutting a character seems minor. I vote cut him. If he's genuinely interesting, take his characteristics and revive him in another story. Maybe even make him a lead.
     
  7. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Dark Lord

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    If he is that interesting, can he take up the place (that advanced the plot) of another character in the story while keeping what made the character unique. That would eliminate a different character, maybe one less desirable, even if necessary. While a long shot, it might be feasible.

    Removing the last 1/3 of the novel...seems like an odd story structure/arc that could sustain such a radical cut, but the novel is still in development.
    I am not sure splitting a novel in two is a good idea, unless the two parts would have their own story arcs, and would be a satisfying read in themselves.

    That's my initial two cents.
     
  8. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Shadow Lord

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    I had a similar problem with the first version of my WIP. I tried to divide it into two books, but the resulting "book one" wasn't something that would attract an agent or readers. So, several of the characters in "book one" had to go, including a couple that I liked a lot. One of these two lovable characters was completely axed, though I may use him in some other story eventually. The other lovable character was put into another role that became necessary in the rewrite.

    The current (third) version of my WIP was carefully crafted to adhere to three-act story structure within a word-count of 120K. It took almost a year to go from the second version of my WIP to the third, because I basically was writing a new novel. But I'm so much happier with the result. Paying attention to story structure really improved the tale. I recommend K.M. Weiland's books on story structure and character arcs if you haven't read them yet and feel you could benefit from brushing up on the subject matter. Check out her site first: The Secrets of Story Structure (Complete Series) - Helping Writers Become Authors
     
    Eastwatcher likes this.
  9. Eastwatcher

    Eastwatcher Apprentice

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    Hi guys and girls

    As ever, thanks for all the amazing advice. I've taken it on board and already made a lot of progress. I've taken the best qualities of the character I removed and split them between two others who I feel were a little hollow at times (a master and student), and it not only works but might actually work better than the original. I've also decided to cut another main-ish character, having him still present but no longer writing any sections from his perspective, and I will be axing another two side characters that don't really progress the story. I'm currently 8 chapters in of 34 total and already lost 11,000 words! I've just needed to be brutal when it comes to cutting non-necessary fluff out, and I've realised it already greatly increases the book's pacing.

    Oh, and for those who were wondering about when I cut the last third of the novel away, I was able to still use the original ending with only a few minor alterations. The last third was practically another novel in of itself, so it lifted out easily and is forming the basis for book two (with a new ending, of course). It's hard removing pieces that I personally think are well written, but I have to look at it and think 'With this piece gone, does it reduce the book's quality to a reader who never knew it was there in the first place?' If it doesn't reduce the quality and any important pieces with can be easily and spliced into another section without any 'jagged edges', then I cut it out.

    Thanks for all the help. All the big alterations I've made to the book have either come about after talking in this forum or from my Beta Readers, so you guys have been essential to my writing process.
     
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    My book 1 would be about 200k if I wrote everything I’d like to, but I cut two POV’s before getting far, knowing they were overboard. It sits right around 129k right now, but the “Director’s Cut” is 140k, heh heh. If I land an agent/pub I’d then introduce the idea of those 10k words because they matter, and if I self-pub, I will include them without question. Book 2 is suffering major bloat before I even write it all... It’s going to take some serious retooling, LOL.
     
  11. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Keep it. Stay true to your artistic vision. Seriously.
     
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  12. Helen

    Helen Mystagogue

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    There's a lot to be said for richness. Which doesn't always marry well with "The most consistent piece of advice every writer and writing forum gives me is to cut out anything that doesn't progress the storyline"
     
  13. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Shadow Lord

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    You could always submit the longer version of the manuscript to a first round of agents. If one of them accepts it, cool. If none accept, then consider revising. But some agents won't look at a revised manuscript, so make sure you don't send to all your favorite agents in the first round.

    I read a lot of agent blogs, and many agents say they are so swamped, they look for any reason to reject, assuming they are even open to submissions. Some agents will auto-reject a ms that's over their preferred word count when submitted by a new potential client. Some agents won't auto-reject a ms based on word count, but other aspects of the ms better be golden, because even if an agent agrees to represent it, it still has to be accepted by a publisher, and they are going to balk at longer manuscripts by new authors. That's why agents generally balk at them too.

    I've decided for myself to keep any ms I plan to submit to agents under 120K words.

    I didn't get from the OP that you planned to self-publish, but if you go that route, then word count isn't an issue as far as getting the book published. Do whatever you want then. But if you're going the traditional route, then you have to play by their rules, in which case, your best bet is to research the agents you think you might want to query, see what word count restrictions they have, and adhere to them. If they don't have any posted, ask them.
     
  14. DragonOfTheAerie

    DragonOfTheAerie Valar Lord

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    The fact that you're balking at cutting out this character tells me that he is in some way important. Imo something doesn't have to directly advance the plot to be important. I've included scenes that were like "??? Why is this here?" and only realized later why they were important.

    I mean, I would say screw it and let the story be as long as it wants/needs to be. That will shave down some of your options in terms of publication, I guess...which if that's important to you, idk...

    If you're at 200k though, it's a far better option to split the book into two rather than try to get it down to a generally acceptable length. Seems like such extensive cutting would do a lot of damage if the story isn't already like...really meandering and fluffy. Which may be what you're dealing with, idk.
     
  15. Eastwatcher

    Eastwatcher Apprentice

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    Hi again guys and girls. Just a little update, if anyone was still interested. After the completion of my 'Machete' draft, I've managed to cut 43,000 words, bringing the grand total to almost 160,000 exactly. A much more respectable length. Thanks again for all the help. The pacing is much better now, and I was actually able to cut so much without major changes to the story structure. Couldn't have done it without you guys.
     
  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    160k puts you deep in the outfield, but at least you’re in the ballpark! Congrats.
     
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