Combating Character Clutter—Whose Story Is It?

One of the problems with the early drafts of my novel was that I had too many characters. This is a common problem for many new writers. I became so absorbed in each new character I developed that the story quickly became a series of rabbit trails with no clear protagonist. In my workshop classes, peers had wildly different preferences on how I might develop the story and what characters to keep or toss. The reason was because I had failed to choose a direction for the story and to assert the character the reader was meant to vie for. Instead, all of my interesting people where pulling readers in too many directions and exhausting their attention. I needed to focus.

Part of the problem was that I will still in the early stages of the project. I didn’t know what the story was yet. I was just writing scenes with the same characters in them and letting my imagination run wild. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with this when a story is just emerging from its primordial ooze. That is important, especially for a large project. You don’t want to edit too early. In fact, it can be useful to check out all the people who show up for open auditions before committing to the select few who will carry the narrative forward. However, eventually, often pages and pages into the process, the auditioning must stop and cuts have to be made. Continue reading