The Ghost Character

Have you gotten halfway through a scene to suddenly realize one of the characters you specifically mentioned as being in the room at the beginning of the scene has done absolutely nothing for the entire scene? It’s like the character is some unseen ghost hovering in the background.

I used to go back and add things for the ghost character to do, but at some point, I realized that if he hasn’t done anything by halfway through the scene, then he probably shouldn’t be in the scene. This just happened to me recently, and the ghost character is actually a key character in the story. He just wasn’t important in that scene.

Sometimes ghost characters don’t belong in a scene, but sometimes, they don’t belong in an entire story. I remember reading through a draft of a story once where I was obviously struggling hard to find things for Ben to do. Just as I thought, “What is Ben even doing in this story???” I saw a note to myself in the margins: “Cut Ben?” I figured if I thought it twice at the same moment, then Ben probably needed to go.

So keep an eye out for your ghost characters. If you struggle to find things for them to do, chances are, they don’t belong in that scene (or possibly in the story).

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