Thursday, 29 July 2010

Pesky Characters and when to dump them

If you're a writer, or know a writer, you'll know that us writers hate to cut anything out. All that time spent on a gorgeously crafted scene? Every word, sentence and plot arc is a blood testament to my art. Right?
So, I've been nitpicking my last chapter over and over and over. Re-reading, editing, tightening... staring at the page for hours on end. I just couldn't seem to move on. The problem? There was this character, a delightful character with a walk-on role earlier in the book but with big plans for later. Round about the time I got stuck on that chapter.
Now, as wonderful as she was, as much time as I spent defining her personality, looks, objectives, entry and exit points, the problem is that she simply didn't contribute anything vital to the story. Worse? She kept on getting in the way.
Being stubborn as I am, it took me three weeks of moving forward a few words a day to make the decision. She had to go.
This wasn't easy. My stories are totally character based, I build the characters first and let them lead the plot. So, for me, dumping a character is akin to a meteorite crashlanding in my story and leaving a big 'ol crater right in the middle of it.
But I pulled on my big-girl boots and snipped her out. Amazingly, the chapter I was working on needed very minor changes to do this - which just goes to show how unneccesary she was. And suddenly I'm steaming ahead again - the storyis working again.
Maybe I'll miss her a few chapters down, maybe I'll regret dumping her, but so be it. If I'd dumped her 3 weeks ago, I'd be 3 weeks closer to the end of this book. A lesson hard-learned, but I don't consider it wasting time. Every book I write, I learn something new about the craft and about my personal writing.
Maybe next time I won't be stubborn quite so long - although I doubt it :)


  1. Ouch! Cutting a beloved character always hurts! But you're right! Often it *does* improve the story. Think on the bright side, though, perhaps you can use her in another book, or even in a story of her own? I believe no writing is ever wasted. And I suppose the fact that we continue to learn and grow with every book we write is partly what keeps us writing - no time to get bored! :) (and it's not stubborn - the correct word is "tenacious"!)

  2. Oh, gawd. Know the feeling well. It's like being tortured. But then the pain lifts and you feel better and can think clearly. And then you wonder what took you so long to make the change! What are you writing, Claire? Another historical?

  3. LOL, Judy, I'll take tenacious over stubborn then. I agree that no writing is wasted, even if I don't use her again, what I've learnt adds to my growth as a writer :)

    Liz, torture like cutting a limb off. And then you realise it was just a pimple, lol. I'm working on another Scottish medieval, though not a follow-on, this one is set in the court of Queen Mary.

  4. Aaaah I remember in the days I used to write what it felt like to press that delete button! LOL! On the one hand it's frightning but on the other - as you've found out - it's extremely liberating to cut the unnecessary and move on!

    Well done you brave lass!