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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Get Rid of Throw-Away Characters

I first touched on this issue in my October 11 post, which you can see here: 

In that post, I mentioned the television show Hawaii Five-0 (modern version featuring Alex O’Loughlin), currently in its second season.  In that post I discussed the fact that the Five-0 powers that be added 2 new characters to the show this season, and whether that addition was a bad thing or a good thing.

One new character, Joe White, has actually had a distinct and unique purpose for being present on the show.  The other, a character named Officer Lori Weston, is what we call in fiction a throw-away character.

Five-0 just aired its 10th episode of the season on Monday night, so is almost half-way through this second season, assuming they film approximately 23-24 episodes per year.  In all of these episodes, not ONCE has the character of Weston done or said ANYTHING that only she could do.  All of her lines and scenes could easily have been performed by any of the other Five-0 team members.

While I love Five-0, and most of the season 2 episodes have been pretty good, I think the producers and powers that be at Five-0 have the same problem novel writers do—they find it very difficult to step back and admit when they need to cut one of their darlings.

We’ve all been there—written a character into our story that we personally were in love with.  We thought they were a marvelous addition to the story.  But then your crit partner or your editor gets a hold of your manuscript and tells you, “Sorry, but this character serves no useful purpose.  Get rid of them and give their scenes to one of the other characters in your book.”

OUCH!  It hurts.

I wish the powers at be at CBS would murder their darling and move on - bringing the show back to its successful core—the fab foursome of Steve, Danny, Chin & Kono (with occasional appearances by Joe White). 

I don’t know how many episodes are typically filmed before a series begins airing, but I hope that if we’re going to be stuck with Weston all season long (talk about unendurable torture), that when the DVD’s for season 2 become available, that they sell two versions.  I want to buy the season 2 DVD’s with Weston’s scenes cut out—that way I can take all that wasted time and use it for other, much more valuable things.

In the meantime, I think this has caused me to coin a new phrase for editing fiction.  Each time I read my own or someone else's work and I see a character who serves no purpose in the story, I can see myself getting my nice red pen and writing "Get rid of your Weston!".

So I guess that does give Weston's character one useful purpose after all. 8-)

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