Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t have too many characters. The center of gravity should be two: he and she.” And Stephen Koch says, “The warning sign of a story that is growing disorganized is likely to be too many characters, and the solution to that problem is likely to be the discovery of the one character—your protagonist—whose fate matters most.”
When I’m editing books, one of the main things I look for is characters who aren’t necessary (or necessary enough) to the story.
Your characters are like your children. The idea of cutting any of your characters is always a hard decision to make for my authors. And yet, after they do it, they sigh in relief and say, “Wow! The story is so much cleaner. You’re a genius.”
I’m not a genius. I just know authors, and authors have a tendency to add characters that end up distracting the reader from main story.
How to Save Time Cutting by Combining Your Characters
Cutting characters can be hard logistically. What do you do with all of the scenes, the lines of dialogue, the action attributed to the character.
One effective trick is to combine similar characters rather than cutting them. I’ve had authors combine son and father’s, brother’s and sisters, and even friends together into one character.
The point behind this is that it takes a long time for your readers to develop a deep relationship with characters, and thus, to effectively build those relationships between character and reader, you want to have as few characters as possible to carry your story forward.
Audit the story you chose in the first lesson with the following questions:
- Do you have too many characters?
- Which character can you cut?
- Can you combine any characters?
Let us know how your audit went in the comments section below.
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