Characters That Count


Create a Character that Counts

Stories are about characters who are involved with each other in conflict. Often in revising, it’s important to look carefully at each characters and ask hard questions:

  • Does this character contribute to the conflict and resolution?
  • What is this character’s role in the story?
  • What is this character’s function in the story?

If you find one or more weak characters, what do you do about them as you revise?

Dealing with Weak Characters

Each character should contribute to the story in some way. Sometimes, characters are just fillers or place holders and don’t really contribute. If you totally cut this character from the story, would it substantially change the story?


Can you combine this character with another character? By putting more than one function/role into a character, it’s possible to create a more interesting character. If you have two best friends, can you combine them into one?

If the character’s role and function are necessary to the story and you can’t combine the character with another, then you must enrich this character. It’s back to the drawing board.

There’s no right or wrong number of characters for a story. What you want are characters that count.

Sign up for my
occasional newsletter.

  • James C.
    December 29, 2010

    I am currently writing a novel and, although I just started it, I have been thinking – and dreaming, about the story for a while now. What began as a small story as now become a never-ending tale.

    Now that I am just starting to write the novel, I am finding out that I created way too much characters. In fact, I have almost 20 “important” characters (all of which I couldn’t erase from the story or combine without changing the whole plot). In addition, I love all of my characters and I could not see myself changing any of them.

    Do you have any idea of what I should do?

  • Darcy Pattison
    December 30, 2010

    As they say, “Kill your darlings.”
    For adult books, 3-5 main characters works pretty well.
    Can you combine some of them, thereby making a stronger character, as well as fewer?


  • darkocean
    November 6, 2014

    OMG 20 characters! O___O I’m so glad I decided that when the third one came to live I decided not to make any more povs. You must be exhausted! If each character at some point needs its own chapters then you going to have to write at least 4-5 books total to give them this space. That’s not rational, don’t fall in love with your book.

    The best povs are the ones that do more of the action, and move the plot forward figure out witch ones interact with each other the most, then kill off the others. And have you ever read a book that has way, to many povs and your having a hard time remembering who, did, what because the story keeps switching all the time.

    I remember in those books having to go back a few chapters just to remember who this person is and what they were doing. Not fun. I get exaused reading those books I don’t buy from that author again. Something to think about. IMO people should focus hardened on a few povs and make sure they are memorable, instead of just another characters in a long list of others in the book. (yawn.)

    I say, make the story you have always wanted, forget everything else. Make it great this is where you need to love your book the making not getting stuck on names. I personally short names are great and the reader can easily remember them. No I’m not a published author yet, I just studied quite a bit and along the way figured a few things out on my own.

  • darkocean
    November 6, 2014

    sorry meant to say “to not get stuck on characters” kind of like adding every spice into your stew when it only requires 5, if you added all your spices it just tastes bad.