Making all the Characters Count

I read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat about six weeks ago and it completely changed the way I thought I needed to plot and ended the debate for me about whether I was a pantser or a plotter.  The truth is, I’m a bit of both and the beat board featured in this book is the key that I needed to have the pieces fall into place with me.

But I had a realization that certain plot points that I thought I knew were really quite weak and a character who I thought was an integral part of my story is actually not.  In fact, he isn’t even necessary.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of having Ally Condie come talk to my class about writing when her first mainstream market book, Freshman for President, was just out.  My students had some really decent questions (even without the qualifier of being teens) but one of the the things that stood out to me was her sharing the experience of a friend reading an early draft of this book and telling her to kill a character.  Murder isn’t really in the book (okay, not at all) so she was confused.  What her friend meant was that the character wasn’t serving a purpose, didn’t add to anything significant except to be another name, so why was he/she there?  Ally couldn’t come up with a reason.

I like this character, I really do.  But in my color coding plotting, he is in three scenes of a Women’s Lit novel and doesn’t really motivate the MC one way or another.  The few things he does do can be easily molded into another character, so there isn’t a reason to keep him.  Yes, this means more rewriting, but it’s worth it to get the story right.

What have you had to do in your writing that you didn’t want to but knew it was the right thing for the character?  Have you taken the time to make sure every single character is serving a purpose, or are you adding artificial value to your story as filler?