1. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    How to handle characters dropping out of a story?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by BlitzGirl, Dec 1, 2018.

    Maybe not completely disappearing, but having their "screentime" grow less and less frequent. I'm only asking about this because I had some secondary characters who had a lot of connections to the main character early on, but now...now they sort of are fading away, especially as the focus has been narrowing in on the MC's relationships with others. It kind of makes me feel "guilty" because most of the characters who are dropping out started as good friends to the MC. I don't want to completely remove them from the story, though, because they did have their importance in developing characterization and whatnot.
     
  2. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    To be honest, I'd take an honest look at whether or not they're plot relevant and whether or not their roles can be filled by other characters and, if I could, write them out in a later draft. If you really like a side character, it's not like you can't use them for a later story, but if they're not doing anything in this story, there's not real sense of having them around and possibly leaving loose ends that go unresolved either by them being there in the first place, or by them drifting off into character limbo. If you don't want to write them out, then you could always try giving them an arc that somehow ties back to the main story.
     
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  3. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I just stop mentioning them. If they've played their part, they've played their part.

    You could, of course, mention in passing that they all joined an obscure religious cult and moved to Namibia to dig prayer holes and live in them. They'd form a kind of desert prairie dog town, popping up occasionally to try to trap and convert passing Bantu people. The Bantu, being natives of the area and still loyal to Otto von Bismarck, convert the secondary characters to Bismarckism, whatever that is. The United Nations prevail upon the Jamaicans to fly over the place every once in a while and drop bales of ganja to just settle everyone down.
     
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  4. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If they've had a significant role in the plot and made a connection with your MC, then they should have their own "mini story" as it were - like, some accountability of what happened to them, even if it's just "They decided to go home and become a hobbit." :D I wouldn't just have them vanish because you will leave readers who have connected with them wondering where they are. I did that once - it seems I am more liberal with my cameo characters which often actually means they're some of my most interesting characters, and readers want more of them and I never planned to give them more. In short, leads to disappointed and unsatisfied readers... So I feel you should make clear that a particular character's arc has ended.

    "Farewell my friend! Hope to see you in my village one day." Off he goes into the sun and a horizon of rolling cheese.
     
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  5. Nariac

    Nariac Senior Member

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    I dunno, I mean, my first thought is: "That sounds like real life, just let it happen."

    People grow apart, and the transition between childhood to adulthood can shed a few friendships. Maybe just let them fade away.
     
  6. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    But this isn't real life. It's a fiction story, and stories have a point to them and loose ends that don't make sense can make a whole novel seem confusing. Yes, people grow apart and come in and out of each other's lives, but in a novel things that happen have purpose. @BlitzGirl -- I think you have to ask yourself what these characters do for your story and what their absence does for your story. And remember it's a story and most things that happen in it have to have a point to them.

    I'm with @The Dapper Hooligan on this one. Ask yourself if they're really relevant or their roles can't be combined with other characters that stay in the story. Maybe you have some good characters that are just in the wrong story for them. Or I think you have to find a way to bring them back around. But keep in mind long stretches without them or mention of them could be weird.

    @BlitzGirl -- I had a similar problem once with a short story. I had this side character that disappeared, but I actually thought it worked. It didn't. I workshopped that story in a grad school writing class where the discussion of my story was primarily where that character was and why they weren't in the present narrative as the story continued. I had worked really hard on that story and my characters, but I accidentally introduced unanswered questions and it seemed like my focus was off, according to the comments I got. Years later I'm writing a novel and that character that disappeared in my short story is now a key player in my novel. I never really think I'm going to reuse characters from something that didn't quite work with them in it, but I seem to do it a lot. I find places they will fit better without even thinking about it.
     
  7. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    I'm not sure if it's worth mentioning, but this story is also written in first person, so what goes on with other characters is limited to what the MC sees and hears about them. The MC has also had a big change in her life where she has new duties and responsibilities that prevent her from hanging out with her friends as much as she used to...so that is part of why they have kind of inadvertently faded from the foreground. :/
     
  8. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Active Member

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    Firstly, are these characters necessary and needed to the plot or character? Could they all been thrown into a cauldron together and create one solid best friend who acts as an impact character to your MC?
    Secondly, this mirrors naturally life. At school I saw my mates every single day, once school was over we started to see each other less and less, now I've not seen any of them for years and we barely talk. People come and go in your life.
    Thirdly, is there a way to bring them into the story even on the sidelines? Could you deepen the plot or make them impact characters to your MC. Example: Sarah likes this guy, Mike and is thinking of taking a risk and asking him out. Meanwhile, her friend takes a risk in her relationship and it back fires on her horribly this could happen off screen and Sarah's friend simply tells her about it. Her friends humiliation impacts Sarah to hold off on asking Mike out until she's sure he likes her. Or Sarah's friend could be a positive impact character and her risk pays off and this encourages Sarah to take a leap towards her goal.

    Hope this helps
     
  9. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I would be inclined to at least reduce clutter here. For example she has five friends, reduce to one that’s important—even if you keep the others, keep them unimportant.

    And is there no way to make a smaller cast still relevant?
     
  10. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    I actually have cut the cast of close friends down a bit by having one of them get sent away to another temple, and then, later, her closest friend gets kicked out of the temple entirely. But in their place, other characters gain relevance. The others who had been there since the beginning end up acting as a supporting cast. I guess I need to just learn to accept that not every character is going to stay important. I've read plenty of stories where many characters pop up now and again but it's only the MAIN characters who even matter. Maybe I'm just worrying myself over nothing...? I guess with my story nearing its end, I'm overthinking everything that came before, even if it is actually inconsequential. Does that make any sense?
     
  11. Infel

    Infel Senior Member

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    I agree with the folks that have said to not dwell on them, but I understand it might be hard to just cut characters entirely. If it were me, I'd give them a scene with your MC--let them know they all care about eachother, but that they're moving apart. It could be a scene of growth for everyone involved; childhood fading, new responsibilities immanent--there might be a lot you can gain from having a goodbye scene between them. It can be impactful for two characters to take a deep breath and say "Goodbye", and mean it forever. That's hard. People have to do that. It's something a lot of readers can relate to, and if you have all those characters anyway and need them to drift apart, that's as good a way as any to push the story where you want to while also having maximum impact.

    Especially if the friends don't want it, and the MC realizes it's time to start her life. Or, to make everyone involved mature, make it a bittersweet acceptance. Growing up is tough, but its mandatory.

    Besides, if you let them go now, you can always bring them back later when you need them for MC emotional impact!
     
  12. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    @deadrats said ..."I accidentally introduced unanswered questions," when referring to the story where she cut a character. That is the key to this issue.

    This is NOT real life we're discussing here. This is a story. When a character gets introduced in a story—and it's not just the postie delivering an important letter—readers assume this character is relevant to the story as a whole. You don't want,"But what happened to so and so?" to be the refrain afterwards, do you? Readers DO notice when an important named character gets dropped or phased out, and they expect to find out what happened to that character later on. They will always feel there is something missing if they don't.

    Of course a character (even a good friend) can disappear from your main character's life, but something about them should linger in the story. As @Mckk pointed out, they should have their own 'mini story' arc, which needs to be completed. Either your main POV character will continue to wonder what happened to them (and this gets a mention from time to time,) or the main character keeps in touch all along. Or hears something about them later on. If this absent character can come back into the story at some point, in some way, that's even better. It will answer the unanswered question deadrats was talking about. At the very least, the significance of the relationship should continue to play a part. If that absent character was important in some way, their influence will linger. If they weren't important enough for their influence to linger, then I'm with @The Dapper Hooligan. Perhaps they don't need to be there at all.

    This is not real life, where people do disappear and we never hear from them again, and just continue on our way. This is a story, and readers have expectations.

    It's like Chekov's gun. Lots of real people have a gun (unfortunately) but in real life, if they put it on the mantel, they have no obligation to actually use it. In a story, they do. If the story's gun never gets used, or never even gets another mention, readers will close the book and say "...but what about that gun? What was THAT all about?"

    Unanswered questions linger. And, like it or not, readers expect a significant character who vanishes, goes away, gets banished, goes off to seek the fortune, etc, WILL return to the story in some fashion. If they die before our eyes and we attend the funeral, fair enough. We don't expect them to rise again, unless it's a zombie story (where we WILL expect them to rise again! :) ) However, if they just go away, we expect to hear about them again. When that doesn't happen, it leaves a gap.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2018
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  13. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To add to @jannert 's point, even in real life questions linger. How often have you checked up on an old friend or old acquaintance's life, or an ex's - browsed their photos on Facebook just to see where they're now in life? It's one attraction of Facebook. So it's the same in a story, except as Jannert says, readers expect answers.

    You know, when I wrote my self-pubbed novel, for whatever reason my co-author and I kept mentioning the fact that our female MC Serycia's dress was yellow. Sunshine, citrine, yellow, sunburst - think of a variant of an adjective that describes yellow and we've probably used it. Honestly, in my head, it was just pretty and as an artist who also draws and paints etc I just wanted to describe it lol. Well, it resulted in a few disappointed readers saying, "I expected that yellow dress to become significant in some way. But nothing happened."

    That was just a bloody dress :D So imagine if you did that to a character who just disappeared.

    I guess another point is, if a character just vanishes as soon as their role in the story is done without some explanation to the reader, then the character's gonna seem like a device that's there solely to move the story along and suddenly, the illusion of realism is gone and your readers will either call it a cheap shot or be dissatisfied. Readers expect characters to have lives outside the story. Sure we know they're fabrications of the imagination, but we don't wanna know that while we're reading.
     
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  14. Spirit of seasons

    Spirit of seasons Active Member

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    People grow and change. I have a perfect example of what your asking. Tull is one of Roses friends from her village homestead. After his father dies at the hands of J. He burns for revenge no matter the cost. He trains every day to become stronger, people tend to view him as a bit wimpy.

    Then one day Rose’s mother (Hannah) wakes up from her non-sleep and returns to homestead after fifteen years. The first person she sees is Tull, training at the archery range. He mistakes Hannah for Rose but soon realizes who she is. He is burdened with telling her about her Husband (Crow) and her daughter. I think seeing her react to her husband’s death put to much emotional strain on him.

    Later in the story he is presented with a chance to leave homestead and travel to the capital down south. After that scene he is cut from the story. Until mid way of the second story arch set 12 years later. Now Tull is a soldier working for the queen. (Lotus) He has grown a lot, no longer dwelling on revenge or bitter feelings. He soon becomes friends with Rose and Lyla again as they embark on another adventure.

    Even though he’s out of the story part way through he has a full character arch and his own motivations and goals.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2018
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  15. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    I'm going to go ahead and describe the situation/characters in case that helps, because I'm still not finding much inspiration (or I am simply overthinking it and making myself worry more than I should).

    Early in the story, the MC, Kaina, makes two friends, Pena and Sari. They end up becoming her best friends and are with her through a tragic event that is one-fourth through the story, which only helps deepen their friendship. They also pick up a third individual, another priestess, Aria, whom Kaina doesn't know much about. She gets to know her. Aria is quiet, not very confident, but she was chosen to be transferred to the temple in the capital with Kaina and the others anyway. When they reach the capital, all but Pena pass the ceremony that determines whether or not they will stay at that temple. So, Pena accepts her fate and is sent to another temple to serve. That's where her involvement in the story ends, and it makes Sari and Kaina sad. Especially Sari, who had grown up with Pena. So even if Pena is out of the story at that point, her departure had an impact on the other characters still remaining. As time goes on, Kaina and Sari realize they actually have romantic feelings for each other, but such things are against the rules for priestesses, and they inevitably are caught. Sari is excommunicated, meaning she may never see Kaina again. Kaina is in a position of importance in their religion, so she can't be excommunicated for breaking the rules. Sari's departure is painful for her.

    Now, those are the two departures that I have no problem with. It is Aria and one other who has bugged me. Honestly, the only "story arc" Aria could possibly take is becoming more confident and self-sufficient, not having to rely upon her friends for courage. That's not exactly anything I've focused on so far, since the story has been focused on Kaina's PoV, and I've been getting carried away by all the real plot-related stuff she's been dealing with. So I know I can try hard to make that "arc" for Aria visible in future drafts.

    The other character is Risa, one of the first people Kaina met when she was first taken to be trained as a priestess as a young girl. Risa becomes a friend of sorts, not as deep a friendship as the others, though, but still an important person in Kaina's early life. When the first temple is attacked, Kaina, Aria, Pena, Sari, and their Mistress are the only ones to escape at the time, so Kaina spends a lot of time worrying about whether or not Risa and the others are dead. She very well could have just remained out of the story from that point on. However, later, Risa is discovered to be alive. She tells the tale of survivors of the attack being captured by the attackers and imprisoned, tortured. But she managed to escape her captivity and snuck her way to the capital to bring the news. She spends a long time trying to recover from her experience, but she does recover. Her fate involves no longer remaining a priestess due to how traumatized she now is, but being allowed to live on the temple grounds if she so wishes. Risa and Aria later become friends, as Kaina notices the two being by each other's sides a lot whenever she does happen to see them. I'm not quite sure what Risa's "story arc" really should be, but she feels like she served her purpose when she brought Kaina and the others the news of what was really going on.

    So, Aria and Risa, two characters who I have had pop up from time to time throughout the story after Kaina gets her new responsibilities. But I still feel guilty about not doing much with them after that point. Once again, it is worth noting that the story is written from Kaina's PoV, in first person, so the reader only knows what she knows. And I don't want to fall into a trap of bringing up those characters again and again just for convenience sake, or to say to the reader, "See? I haven't forgotten about them? Did you forget about them? Well, let's try not to forget about them!". That just seems...wrong to me. But I'm not sure what else to do.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    OK, I'm going to catalogue these for easy viewing:
    • Kaina: MC, not going anywhere.
    • Pena: Lifelong friend of Sari, becomes friend of Kaina. Doesn't qualify, sent to another temple.
    • Sari: Lifelong friend of Pena, becomes friend of Kaina. Does qualify, becomes romantically involved with Kaina, excommunicated.
    • Aria: Quiet and nervous. Escapes the attack.
    • Risa: Kinda-friend. Doesn't escape the attack. Traumatized, not a priestess, lives on temple grounds, friends with Aria.
    My first thought is: Can you merge Aria and Risa with other characters?

    For example, I assume that part of Risa's purpose is to tell the tale of what happened after the attack.

    What if Pena, say, was temporarily assigned to Kaina's temple in some sort of servant-like role, and she's the one who was captured-but-escaped? To expand her arc a whole lot, maybe the trauma brought out something in her and now she qualifies to be a priestess?

    What if Sari was at Kaina's temple, maybe for some sort of trial or for her ceremony of excommunication, and she's the one who was captured-but-escaped? Maybe her escape and bringing of information is amped up to be more heroic, so that she's forgiven and allowed to be a priestess after all? Or she can't be a priestess but she is given some role, so she's around?

    (Maybe Sari is so angered at her excommunication that she joins the Other Side?)

    You still need somebody with Kaina during the period while Pena and Sari are gone, and what to do with them? What if nervous, timid Aria does something heroic during the attack and dies?

    Anyway. Thoughts.
     
  17. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    Hmm, the idea of Aria sacrificing herself at the story's climax is not a bad idea, actually. The capital's temple, as part of the climax, gets attacked, and that results in the final events of the story to occur. I knew 100% that Mistress Saifiri, the mentor who Kaina has seen as a sort of motherly figure, definitely will die at the end, but I wasn't sure if anyone else should be killed off. So, that's actually something I am eager to give some serious thought to, especially since that scene that starts the climax is going to occur any page, now.

    To clarify, Kaina and all of her friends are present at the first temple that gets attacked, and that is how Risa gets captured. They then travel to the main temple in the capital and that's where the rest of the story takes place. Kaina and her friends were all chosen to be transferred to the capital, as after x number of years, priestesses are given the chance to be sent to other temples in the country, if they qualify.

    My biggest problem is I feel I can't completely remove either Aria or Risa from the story. Risa (who is older than Kaina by 5-10 years) serves a purpose by helping Kaina when she first starts out as a young girl, so in that way she is important to Kaina's story. Adding Aria was me not wanting Kaina to be stuck with just two close friends, who both end up leaving her life for one reason or another. I mean, yeah, she could just not exist at all in the story, but that seems limiting. And it is a boy named Teran, who Kaina meets once she's at the capital, who ends up filling the void left by Pena and Sari's absence (he actually ends up becoming Kaina's boyfriend in the end, but certainly is no replacement for the relationship she and Sari had. Different people, different relationships and importance, I guess. Her relationship with Sari is what first introduces Kaina to what it's like to love someone, and then Teran's relationship only solidifies her desire to live out those experiences. Like, once Kaina knows what it's like to love someone, she can't imagine cutting that aspect out of her life forever, even if it is against the rules. But, anyway, I AM RANTING! Teran is a character I really like...).

    Sorry for the wall of text, and blabbing about my stuff, but it's hard to figure out how to explain my conundrum without going into a lot of detail.
     
  18. Nariac

    Nariac Senior Member

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    Ah, so he fills that void, does he? :p
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Are you expecting to write a sequel? I know nothing about publishing itself, but as a reader I’m ok with “un-closed” characters if the world isn’t closed. Maybe Pena has a good job somewhere and can do them a favor from afar. That sort of thing. They still exist and thus make the world more complex and textured. That sort of thing.
     
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  20. Spirit of seasons

    Spirit of seasons Active Member

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    Maybe I'll spell out the second part of Tull's story in more detail. From age 14 to 26 he trains in the capital city at the queens palace. He lives in the barracks inside the east wing of the palace. One day a floating island with a castle on it drifts over the mainland, causing the landscape to tear and twist apart. Tull is second in command in a small battalion that is sent to help some of the small towns and villages a few miles out. They take water and emergency food to a village set in a small forest valley. By chance Rose and Lyla were on their tenth anniversary honeymoon staying a famous hotel when the forest was ripped apart overnight. Tull recognizes them almost immediately even though they are much older. They quickly catch up on their life before Tull has to return to helping the village and search for earthquake survivors.

    Later after the Queen gets kidnapped by the antagonist, she has her own reasons for doing it, Tull, the palace guard general, Rose, Lyla and about two dozen soldiers leave the capital to try to reach the floating castle. They get sidetrack as Lyla almost gets buried alive by a earthquake when they are passing through the torn landscape. Massive insects (human sized beetle) come out of the ground and attack them en mass. The soldiers battle the insects as Rose and Lyla make a daring escape up the ravine. One of the soldiers Samaira gets injured and Tull saves her. Everyone but one soldier escapes back to the capital.

    Lyla and Rose do their own thing trying to rescue the queen, wile Tull recovers from the battle with the insects. This happens off screen but Tull organizes a battalion and they make a excursion into the hives of the beetles and wipe them out. Samaira comes with him and at one point they realize they have feelings for each other. Even if they are miles underground, covered in blood and ooze. The culling is successful so the people can reclaim their land. The broken landscape is converted into a thriving town. Also off screen a few years later, Tull and Samaira get married. Though it is unconfirmed if they have kids.

    I could write his scenes out but it kinda feels like a side quest with no connection to the main story.
     
  21. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    As far as I know, there will not be a sequel (or, if I wrote one, it would be almost like my own fan-service, ahaha). But there will be an epilogue that will show where Kaina's life has been going years after the end of the story (because her life does change quite a bit after all is said and done). There will certainly be mentionings of what other characters have been up to as well (like, I imagine Sari, who was excommunicated and having to make a new life for herself as a commoner, finding a girlfriend and basically living the rest of her life with her, even if same-sex couples can't marry in this society...which Kaina would want to see changed, but...that;s a story for another time).

    I also have zero plans on being published, not even self-published. I write novels for my own enjoyment and to share with friends/people who are interested.
     
  22. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, that definitely factors in, if it's a sequel you're writing. In fact, a vanished character can make the reader want to get the next installment (and the next, etc) to find out what has happened to these vanished characters, or find out how they're getting on if they haven't mysteriously vanished—or what part they still have to play in the story. But it really doesn't change the reader's need for closure.

    If the 3-part series finishes and these erstwhile important characters never get another mention, the end result will be the same as if it all happened in just one book. Followers of the series will have been expecting to see or hear about this character again ...and when they don't, they will be unsatisfied.

    Readers are alert to unsolved mysteries within a story. If there is something that seems odd, they will note and remember it—and expect the mystery to be solved at some point. The main character's father disappeared when she was just a baby, and her mother mourned for him as long as she was still alive. Okay, that happens in real life a LOT and the father is never found—but when it happens in a story, a reader will assume that sooner or later the father will emerge from his absence. If that issue is never addressed, there will be a niggle of dissatisfaction in the reader. The way around it is to make clear that the missing father is not an important factor in the "present" story. What matters is the mother wasting her life in mourning, which the daughter resolves to never do. Or something like that.

    It's possible @BlitzGirl , to achieve this closure in your story regarding the friends whom you cut. For example, if the story is being told in first person (as you've indicated) and if it's being told from the perspective of an older person looking back on her life, it's possible to achieve the closure by having the narrator say something like (not a direct quote, by the way, just general gist of thought) : "I waved my friends goodbye. We promised to write, but we never did. They were close to me for so many years and taught me many things about love, but, sadly, we never saw each other again." That way your readers could achieve closure regarding these characters, and your main character can move on without them. There won't be any implied mystery or chance of them coming back into the story.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2018
  23. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    This is pretty much the set up for Coco. It took like 3 generations for that family to get closure, but to the viewer it still happened during a single arc.
     
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  24. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think there has to be closure for every character. In my project, I use countless characters to fill up a scene or event. Once you give a character a name, backstory and motivation for doing what they do then they become an important character that should be written off carefully.
     
  25. mrieder79

    mrieder79 Probably not a ground squirrel

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    Location:
    The Brazos Formation
    Unless you have finished the first draft, I recommend you stop worrying and just keep pushing on. When the book is done, you'll be able to see much more clearly what must happen. Good luck. :)
     

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