Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Should You Cut That Character?

By Margo Kelly, @MargoWKelly

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Characters have a way of sneaking into our manuscripts when we're not looking. We need someone to play a role, or do a job, and before we realize it, the story is crawling with people. Sometimes, too many people. Margo Kelly visits the lecture hall today to share an exercise that can help you determine whether or not a character is pulling their weight.

Margo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran public speaker, she is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Who R U Really? is her first novel, of which Kirkus Reviews said, “the relationships among characters are well–fleshed out.”

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Take it away Margo...

Is every single character in your story important? Are you sure?

Here’s an exercise to determine the depth of your characters:

On strips of paper, write the names of every single character mentioned in your manuscript (except for the protagonist and antagonist). Put the strips into a bowl and mix them up. Pull out one strip at a time and answer these questions:

1. What is the most outrageous thing this character does in the story?

2. What is the driving emotion behind this character?

3. What does this character strive to achieve within the plot?

4. How does this character provide conflict in the story?

5. How is this character different than the protagonist?

6. Who in the story’s cast of characters is the complete opposite of this particular character?

7. Who is similar to this character?

8. Could this character be combined with a parallel character within the story?

9. What would happen if this character had never been born in the world of your manuscript?

10. Would his/her absence change the plot?

11. Would the protagonist suffer from never having known this character?

12. Are there other characters in the story that would simply pick up the slack and move the plot forward in the absence of this character?

13. Why does this character matter?

14. What does this character do to earn his/her spot in the story?

15. Why do you want to keep this character in your manuscript?

Secondary characters must strive to earn their spot in the manuscript; otherwise they’re taking up unnecessary space, and most likely, they’re forgettable.

If you cannot handle eliminating a needless secondary character, then you will have to dig deep to make him/her matter. By utilizing the questions above, you will be able give your secondary characters depth and importance.

About Who R U Really?

When Thea discovers a new role-playing game online, she breaks her parents’ rules to play. And in the world of the game, Thea falls for an older boy named Kit whose smarts and savvy can’t defeat his near-suicidal despair. Soon, he’s texting her, asking her to meet him, and talking in vague ways about how they can be together forever. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit’s allure, and hurtles toward the very fate her parents feared most. Who R U Really? will excite you and scare you, as Thea’s life spins out of control.

“Kelly has painted a realistic picture of how a smart girl can get caught up in something dangerous online. … Guaranteed to give readers goosebumps.” -- School Library Journal. (

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound | Merit Press


  1. This is great! yes, all characters should matter and not be a waste of time or a filler.

    1. It requires extra effort on the writer's part, but it certainly makes the story stronger in the end!

  2. Love that questionnaire Margo.

  3. Cathryn Cade6/13/2024 9:51 AM

    A truly excellent questionnaire which should be in every beginning writer's craft library.