Expendability (Or: Keep Killing Those Darlings)


Well, I did something sort of awful today. It was for the best, and I’m sure future readers will thank me, but it still sort of sucked.

I didn’t kill off a character, exactly, but I might as well have because I took away her voice…downgraded her to nothing more than a mention…completely removed her POV chapter.

Normally I am a happy, remorseless editor. It actually makes me feel better because it happened for a reason, and that reason is usually cleaner, tighter prose and story.

Except…this was Adrienne!

If you’re not one of the 30ish people who have read St. Charles at Dusk, that was probably overwhelmingly anticlimactic for you. Even if you did read it, you’re probably still saying, “so what?”

The “so what” is this: Adrienne was a voice that was always hard for me to find. She is a dear character, but she is also not always the most likable character. I knew this when I started writing her and I was not surprised when throughout the novel this didn’t change very much. But I loved her as only a mother could, and I always felt bad that I couldn’t bring myself to completely redeem her. And so when I started writing the next book in the series, The Storm and the Darkness, I felt like the least I could do was give her something to do. After all, the book centers around her cousin Ana, and her husband Oz and brother Nicolas both play important roles in the tale. It would have been so easy to fit her in, too.

But in the end, her piece was extraneous. It was not a means to and end, but simply a friendly drive-by cameo that added nothing to the story except a small soothing of my conscience. It’s not doing her any favors, and certainly not doing me any. So, her chapter had to go.

Je suis désolée, ma cher! Maybe next time…

5 thoughts on “Expendability (Or: Keep Killing Those Darlings)

  1. You have done what I have yet to face, but know I must do someday. The novel I am working on promises to be huge with many extraneous characters. Right now, they all seem important, but I know I will have to give some of them pink slips.

    1. It really is hard sometimes to step outside of your own head long enough to see things objectively. This is why I think I would probably be better at writing epic fantasy or something, where you can create hundreds of characters and its perfectly normal…

  2. I sympathize. Killing your beloved creations is like telling yourself you have favorites among your children.

    The previous version of the WIP (Pride’s Children) had SIX pov characters: each main character had one, carefully chosen, sidekick who gave us more insight on that character.

    I loved writing several of those scenes. They gave the reader (me) a huge amount of useful information, and an outside judgement on the character’s worth, and lots of neat little bits – BUT

    I loved them as the creator and writer, those scenes.

    But when I went back as a READER, I found myself saying, “I don’t CARE what this character has to say, gimme more of the ACTUAL character I’m interested in.”

    So, I sadly saved the original versions of those three characters’ pov scenes, extracted the actual plot points and necessary information, kept most of the dialogue (thus preserving some of the pov of the secondary characters), and found ways to keep all but the thoughts that those characters would never express.

    Sometimes it was even possible to put a bit of those thoughts in, by body language or an extra line of dialogue.

    I lost bits – but the result was worth it.

    It also taught me not to do that to myself next time, because it is a heck of a lot of work to do to try to preserve bits you love, EVEN when you can justify it.

    I see how you would find it hard to give up a character who had been difficult to write – there’s a lot of work expended in that type of writing. You know it stretched you as a writer, and you’re grateful for that, too.

    Is it possible Adrienne has her own story that might some day get told?

    1. I’ve had to do that before as well…scrap either complete chapters or POVs and re-appropriate the contents elsewhere. I agree that its a ton of work, especially since its not just a 1:1 tradeoff. You can’t just take every clever line or beautifully written description and simply copy and paste. There’s voice to be considered.

      As for Adrienne, she’s had her story told…she was one of two main characters in my first book. But unlike the other character, I always felt like she would have very mixed reception from readers….and even though that was intentional on my part, it still left me with some guilt. I thought maybe I could redeem her a little in this next story, even though it wasn’t her story….but I’m finding now that I can’t, because she’s not supposed to change. She is who she is, and I just need to live with it. And this isn’t her story.

      Thanks for the comments again…there’s a comfort in sharing your pain with other writers!!

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