Cutting Characters, Left and Right

“Sooooo, did you catch last night’s episode of popular reality show? Yeah, no? You missed a good one, man. You missed a good one. They were kicking people off left and right. And like, some people got kicked on. And uh, I mean, you should a watched it, man. You definitely should a watched it. Should a watched it.”
~~Homestarrunner in Strong Bad e-mail 37, “Dullard.”

That quote keeps running through my head as I write, with minor variations. “She was cutting characters left and right, and like, some characters got kicked on.” When I started this story, I had five main characters and about four secondary characters. Over a period of about five years (author time, not story time), it grew to ten main characters with about fifty secondary characters (not at the same part of the story at least!). My protagonist started the story with a family of seven, a best friend and his little sister, and another friend and his family of nine (plus a sister-in-law and nephew). He then met up with a group of nineteen others, plus around five mentors. Add to that all the tertiary and absent characters as well as the villains and it was mind-boggling.

At my first writer’s workshop, I submitted the first (terrible!) three chapters of The Epic Novel. One of the questions my shopmates asked was why the fourth friend was there. Because you don’t leave one of your crew behind when you take a road trip, of course.

As I’m redrafting this first part of my novel, I painfully realized that the question they asked was quite legitimate. Cutting that fourth friend hurts because two of my favorite most poignant scenes deal with that character. Sigh.

Horrifically, I am realizing that the third friend, who at one point was my favorite character, may not have purpose either. Not to the MC’s motivation, not to this particular plot of the story. Sadly, I think he may have to go. The problem is, his sister is quite involved. How do I keep her involved without him? How does the MC even know her if not as the little sister of his best friend? Dilemmas, dilemmas!

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