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Thread: Experience/advice with cutting a main character after the first draft

  1. #1
    figuring it all out
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    Experience/advice with cutting a main character after the first draft

    Hi writers,

    I recently finish the first draft of my first ever book (yay...kinda) but I feel like my main characters are a bit flat compared to similar books I've been reading.

    It's a middle-grade book, first of a series (hopefully), and the MCs are twin detectives. I'm tossing around the idea of cutting one twin out completely and just having one much more developed MC.

    I'm happy with my plot but cutting one twin will mean I'll have to alter large chunks which is why I am hesitating.

    So my questions are:
    Do you have any experience with cutting major characters after your story has been written? In hindsight was it a good/bad decision?

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW Bacchus's Avatar
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    Not sure how much I can help with your question on major characters but even changing a personality trait in a minor can be a lot of work; I decided to make one of my characters less confident to distinguish him a little more from the MC and it took ages even though I was only halfway through -- this, it seems, is in the nature of our craft, however:-

    Quote Originally Posted by writbeyondmeasure View Post
    I recently finish the first draft of my first ever book (yay...kinda)
    isn't "yay...kinda" it's yay...

  3. #3
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    If you're finding that one twin is too similar in personality, conduct, and motives to the other twin, then it sounds like cutting him is a smart idea. If you want to keep him, then you need to make a sharp distinction between the two characters, perhaps one acting as a foil for the other. You could have conflict between them and differing agendas. And you probably need to choose one of them to be the protagonist and the other to be more secondary.

    Personally, I like the idea of having twins in the story, but they do need to be very different from one another in terms of their role in the story.
    Last edited by BethS; 01-11-2017 at 06:20 PM.

  4. #4
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I've had experienced chopping a major (not main character) before, the main antagonist actually. It was definitely not easy, around 60% of my original plot had to be re-written. T'was a pain, to be honest. But in the end, although the plot diverged really differently from its original path, I find that it had become far more complex and interesting. On another note, quite recently (yesterday actually) I decided to change the trait of another major character, turning him more selfish and entitled than he originally was. This time, it was more liberating. Whenever I wrote him, I find myself caged because he was one of those 'generic nice person' kind of character and I constantly worry if he acted selfish in-story.

    Sorry if I'm rambling, but what I mean to say is that it's entirely up to you. As the other posters have said, you can either changed his traits to distinguish him or scrape him entirely. It can go both ways, and you might have to change some of the plotlines. I can't give much advice as I don't know your story and what is said character's role, but good luck-- and congratulations on your first draft.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW TellMeAStory's Avatar
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    In the Harry Potter books, the Weesley twins Fred and George work perfectly, I think, as a unit character--not "different from one another in terms of their role in the story."

    That's what makes it so terribly wrenching when one of them is killed.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for all the congratulations and feedback It really helped and I have a solution.
    Instead of trying to make two equally interesting characters with equal action and dialogue I've taken BethS' advice and made one the protagonist and one secondary. Twin One now thinks being a detective is the best thing ever and Twin Two would rather hang out with their friends and no longer go on cases to the absolute horror of Twin One. This has made the characters different from each other and with opposite goals which has added more conflict. And I can bring Twin Two back for the final act (after plenty of convincing by Twin One) so I won't have to change the plot significantly.

    I'm still not over Fred's death!

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW neandermagnon's Avatar
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    I've made huge changes that have required going back and editing the entire manuscript to fit the changes. This also suits my way of working as I don't do first draft, second draft etc, I write and then edit it as I go along, if I make a change that affects the whole thing it's not that big a deal to go back and edit the whole thing from chapter 1 and I won't wait until I've finished the story to do this.

    My advice if you're hesitant would be to save a copy of it under two different file names and do your edits on the new file name. That way if you make major changes and then think "No... definitely was better before" and/or the whole thing ends up as a total mess, you've got the original version saved and you can go back to that. Then you don't have to worry "what if this messes up the whole story?" If it doesn't work out then you'll know and won't keep on wondering and you'll have your original version intact.
    my blog - cave people and stuff - an imaginative look at palaeolithic life: http://cavepeopleandstuff.wordpress.com/

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    If you feel like something with your work doesn't quite gel then the reality is, it probably doesn't. Remember, you know this story better than anyone so follow your gut and if that means a bit of extra work then at least all the work already completed won't be finalised to a level anything lower than perfect.

  9. #9
    seņora vaca writeonleanne's Avatar
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    I actually had the reverse situation in my book - I added a character that ended up altering the entire plot of my novel. I pretty much had to rewrite the whole thing, which was daunting, but ended up making the overall plot much stronger.

    It sounds like your solution is a solid one - I also like twins in books, if they're different enough. They usually act as a good foil to the main character.

    Also, congratulations! Finishing a first draft can be super satisfying.

  10. #10
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TellMeAStory View Post
    In the Harry Potter books, the Weesley twins Fred and George work perfectly, I think, as a unit character--not "different from one another in terms of their role in the story."
    But they weren't the protagonists. Which I gather is the case in the OP's story, unless I'm mistaken about that.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW RightHoJeeves's Avatar
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    I've done that before. I cut the main character and bumped up the secondary to the main. I won't lie, it was a LOT of work. But the book didn't work the way it was, and its much better for the change now.
    Being judgemental must surely be one of the most joyful activities known to the species and it is cruel that other animals are denied this pleasure.

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  12. #12
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    I had a pair of FBI agents that I whittled down to just ONE FBI agent in my first manuscript. I think it made the whole thing a lot stronger, because the truth is, a lot of the time, when they were talking to each other, they were filling in information that was better tucked in more discretely, or part of a clutter-y subplot. When they were talking to other people, they were more or less the same character. It seemed like a huge change before I did it, but it was well worth the effort.
    I saved the one I cut for later, just in case I decide to use him again in some other story.

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