Getting Rid of a Character

I’ve spent most of today watching episodes of Burn Notice.  (It’s been a nice little Season 6 marathon, thanks to Netflix.)  The last couple of episodes have seen the departure of some of the people we’ve come to know, if not love, and it got me thinking about how we as authors rid ourselves of characters in novels.

What?  You never need to get rid of a character in your story?  Pish.  Peripheral characters wear out their welcome, henchmen have to be disposed of, redshirts need to be sacrificed.  Even beloved secondary characters must be let go if they are preventing our protagonist from reaching a goal or developing independence.  (Dumbledore, anyone?)  These folks don’t always have to die, but they do need to leave the stage.

Here are a few ways that you can help someone to their exit.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your own in the comments!

Death
Ah, death.  This is a classic way of getting rid of a character, especially if you want them to be permanently gone.  (Of course, depending on your method of killing someone off, you could explain it away and bring them back.  Gandalf, anyone?)  This leaves a lot of room for creativity as well as plot advancement.  Shot by a sniper?  Sure.  Poison in their wine?  Why not?  Nasty lab accident?  If you’ve got a lab handy and don’t mind collateral damage, might as well.  Passed away quietly in their sleep?  Aren’t you a sweetheart.  Besides getting rid of someone for good, it also shows your readers that you’re not afraid of bringing in a little death when you need it.

Otherwise Indisposed
If you’re not interested in killing someone (maybe you need her later, or he just isn’t worth making a scene) there are always methods for making a character unavailable.  She could be injured or ill, and confined to a hospital.  He could get arrested, or be ordered to stay home by a spouse.  I recommend caution if you are contemplating kidnapping; depending on your protagonist, you might become obliged to rescue the hostage.  Overall, though, this method of eliminating someone gives you a lot of latitude.  You can write a scene describing what happened, or just have another character mention it in passing.

Called Away
This one works particularly well for tertiary or peripheral characters.  They have lives outside of that of your main character, and sometimes those lives become more important.  Military personnel can be deployed elsewhere and law enforcement can be reassigned.  People can get new jobs, or their families can move away.  Keep in mind that you can either let them depart gracefully when they are no longer needed, or you can take advantage of this to leave your protagonist in the lurch at a critical time.

Dismissal/Parting Ways
This is the “Later, dude, thanks for your help” or “It was so nice to meet you” option.  Sometimes characters just go their separate ways; lives change, people graduate and go to different colleges, the airplane lands and the friendly chit-chat is over.  If one character works for another, or is subordinate in some way, the boss can let the unnecessary person go from the project (and the story).  Both of these methods can be done either in a friendly way or a hostile one, and it’s up to you as an author to shape the impact on any characters left in the tale.

Honestly, most of the time there is a natural way for you to get your unnecessary characters out of the picture, and you won’t have to analyze the how and why.  You may be asked by a reader to explain the choice, but by then you should be able to consider what you did and discover why (if you don’t know already).  It is fun to think about, though!

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Subplots

There are two main subplots in my NaNo novel, in addition to the primary plot.  At least one will probably come into play in the story before the main one really gets rolling, but I’m having trouble deciding when to start incorporating them, especially the later one.

The tricky thing is that both subplots are personal issues faced by the two main characters.  We’ve already had a lot of their personal lives in the story, as the beginning is the development of their friendship.  It seems just a touch awkward to start weaving in more of that type of thing before we really get to the meat of the story.

I’ll probably start writing my way into each of the three storylines and address the best way to braid them together once they get going.  It’s a bit tricky to handle it in this fashion, as there is a risk they’ll feel disjointed, but with the question looming of when to bring them in I’ll take the chance.

Training

I’ve been slowly working my way through chapter summaries for Dragon, and I’ve discovered something that will make my life easier when it comes to the final synopsis.  The main character spends several chapters in training.

Now, it is interesting training.  Rather than drone on with a lot of repetitive stuff (which is what training is, right?) there are snapshots of her training.  Everything we see is new and interesting, helps develop her relationships and reveals a bit more of who she is.  She’s also learning cool things.   Flying in a thunderstorm?  Intricate magic work?  Dragon battle training?  Yes, please!

The thing about it is that, while every chapter is unique and revealing, it’s all still training.  This (theoretically) makes the synopsis a bit simpler, as I need to summarize all of it and pull out one or two moments that are key to the plot later on.

We’ll see if that’s really how it falls out.

A Rush of Inspiration

Last night, as I was driving home from a friend’s party, I had a rapid influx of ideas for my next NaNo novel.

I already had the two main characters, how they meet, and a bit of each’s back story.  The big piece I was lacking was a plot.  I’d had several hints of ideas, but most of them were lame, overdone, or not fantasy.  (Having a fairy in the story does not automatically make it a fantasy, people!)

On the drive I found my plot!  It takes pieces from one of my idea-hints, but also incorporates new concepts that I hadn’t thought of prior to last night.  The really interesting thing is the setting – this is going to be fantasy in the real/modern world.  I know that it’s a well-established motif, but it will be new and different for me.  (Butterflies is set in its own world, and Dragon has gates between modern and fantasy, keeping most of the magic to the fantasy realm.)

I need to do a little bit of research and start making some notes so I’m ready to go when November rolls around, but I’m already getting excited!

Now I Need a Plot…

I’m getting pretty good at creating characters.  It’s odd, because I don’t have to think about creating them; often they spring, nearly fully formed, into my imagination.  Other times I go through the process of developing them, but either way, characters are not my challenge.

Apparently it’s the plot that can be the problem.

I’ve got two characters, likely the main characters, for my NaNo novel.  As I mentioned yesterday, they’re helping me fall asleep.  Admittedly, one is developing more easily than the other, but it will still work out okay.

Other than how the two of them meet, and a little bit of back story, I have no idea what the plot of this novel is going to be.  There is an obvious, easy, done-before kind of plot option, but I don’t want to use it.  Perhaps the problem is that I’m focusing too much on the female, fantasy character rather than the male, human character – maybe the story to tell isn’t hers, it’s his.  The challenge may also come from the avoidance of the obvious plot; since that one keeps coming up, maybe I’m trying too hard to avoid it and so pushing all plot options out of my head.

I’m really glad I have a few months before this becomes a true issue!

Is Writing Glamorous?

I watched a silly romantic comedy this morning that had been recommended by Netflix.  It was an acceptable movie, although I probably won’t watch it again.  The reason that I’m even mentioning it is that it follows a trend/formula that hits close to home.

The main character is a writer.

She’s a magazine writer, rather than a novelist, but still a writer.  This got me thinking, and I went to my DVD collection to take a look.  While it’s not as common as my initial reaction, I own a handful of movies that use writing (in some form) as part of the plot. Alex & Emma.  How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.  27 Dresses. All of these have a major character who is a writer which plays a large role in the development (or obstacles) of the relationship.

There are variations on writing, of course.  Magazine columnist.  Newspaper journalist.  Novelist.  It’s interesting to see how often these professions make an appearance in movies.  While the likely cause is that it makes for a good plot device, I’m going to comfort myself with the thought that perhaps a bit of it is due to the glamorous nature of writing.  😉

Craving Depth

I watched a movie last night that had so much possibility for character and plot depth, and yet it fell so flat.

The movie was almost a tease.  There were tantalizing moments of detail, like when the male protagonist turns out to be the anonymous author of several magazine articles about his profession.   There were glimpses into a history with layers, such as when the sisters are revealed to have been born in the States but grew up in England.  And yet all of these were just that: moments and glimpses.  Every opportunity to unveil depth and pull me fully into their world was skimmed over, like a rock across the surface of a pond.

Needless to say, the character-driven author in me was very irritated, and the fiction reader in me wasn’t too happy either.  Maybe I should go back to my novels.

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