Too many voices (spoil the screenplay)


Congratulations! You have just outlined your next screenplay. Or maybe you’ve written “Fade Out”. That’s quite an accomplishment and you should be proud of yourself.

Go ahead. Take a moment to luxuriate. I can wait.

Okay, now I need you to kill one of your characters…or two…or maybe even three.

What? Oh, I know you’re not writing a thriller, but murder will be good for you. And even if you are writing a thriller, you’ll feel better after you pull the plug on certain characters.

Having written a few screenplays and having read 50X more, one common thread I find is that writers (me included) create too many characters, some of which are completely unnecessary.

Now, I’m not talking about the red-shirted cannon-fodder that fills the background…the cab driver, the concierge, waiter, ex-boyfriend, whatever. No, I’m talking about those characters just below the protagonist, antagonist, side kick/mentor/love-interest who help move your characters through a plot point (or several) and then disappear completely.

red shirts

Let me give you an example from a murder thriller collecting dust on my hard drive…The Children of San Miani.

In my story, a journalist provides a young detective with just enough information to introduce her to the lead suspect, a victim’s rights advocate with a major reason to want the first murder victim dead.

In reviewing my first draft, I realized that the moment the journalist connected the detective and the advocate, he completely disappeared from the story. He became superfluous to (story) need, so I simply stopped talking about him.

This begged the question: Did I need the journalist character at all?

With very little thought, I quickly realized I could accomplish all of the journalist’s plot points without the journalist, either by ascribing his actions to other main characters or to the story itself. And poof, he was gone.

The result was a story that was that much tighter. A story that was a bit less confusing and yet still maintained the mystery I needed for the thriller.

Look at your story. Focus on those second-tier characters.

Are there some that don’t make it to the end of your story; that simply trigger or drive a scene or two forward?

Can those triggers or drives be handled by another character in your story, maybe a main character? Or perhaps those actions can extend the life of another secondary character who just plops into your story from the ether?

In some cases, the answer may be no; that in the grand scheme of things, this character is vital if temporary.

Fine. Keep the character. You are the best judge of what is needed for your story. But I’ll bet at least one character can go.


Show no mercy. Cut the strings. Release the Kraken. (Oops, sorry. Wrong movie.)

Don’t smother your screenplay. By eliminating the unnecessary, people will better understand and appreciate your story more quickly.

And when you may only get one read (if that), the easier you make it on your audience, the better.

(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission, and may be completely superfluous.)

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