Okay, all the way back in March I talked about being objective about your writing and about the process of writing. As an example of objectivity I mention a character I called Crazy Uncle Karl and being attached to him even though he might not be the best thing for the story. If you don’t remember, or haven’t read, that entry go ahead, I’ll wait.
Now that we’re all caught up I want to talk in detail about the fixing of the Uncle Karl Problem. I want to clarify that the Uncle Karl Problem, as I like to call it because I like pithy names for things, doesn’t have to be just a character. It could be a character, a location, a scene, an object, or a concept. For instance in my most recently workshopped piece my “Uncle Karl” was the fact that I really wanted to tell the story from this one character’s point-of-view. It worked until about half way through the story and then because of the POV everything sort of doesn’t make sense and the people reading it had too many questions about what exactly was going on in the story, instead of just enjoying the story (which is really what I wanted). So the Uncle Karl wasn’t the character it was the fact that I wrote from that character’s point-of-view.
So let’s talk about how you know you have an Uncle Karl Problem. In the same post I mentioned that you should have more than one or two people read your stuff. It’s so you can more readily identify the Uncle Karl(s) in your story. For the sake of argument let’s say you have a group of six people to read your writing.
If one person in that group doesn’t like Uncle Karl: What are you going to do? You can’t please everyone all the time. Don’t worry about it.
If three people don’t like Uncle Karl: It’s a good idea to look at Uncle Karl. Maybe you can pull back on how crazy he is. Maybe only have him in the couple scenes no one really commented on him being in. At this point it’s a minor deal that people don’t like him. Still fifty-fifty is a good balance you don’t have to worry too much about him.
If four or more people in the group don’t like him: Okay, that’s a majority. I’m not going to lie to you it may be time to let Uncle Karl go. Look, he was fine in the first draft, you had a good time writing him, but if he’s getting in the way of the story he’s got to go.
At this point I’d like to disclaim that this system is just a guideline. I use this guideline and it helps me a lot in determining if something (or an entire story) is working or not. It is just a guideline though. It’s possible (very slimly) that you just so happened to beat the odds and stacked your writer’s/reading group with people who specifically don’t like Uncle Karl whenever he pops up in any story not just yours. It’s impossible to know that until you sit down and take a good hard look at Uncle Karl and what he’s doing for the story (suggestions and techniques on how to do this will be discussed in part 2).
Of course you don’t have to listen to your reading group. You can decide they don’t know what they’re talking about and not do anything with Uncle Karl. You are in charge of your writing. But then again, if you didn’t want their opinion why give them your story to read?