Project #1 – Character Deletion

Another update, so soon? You’re right, it’s only been a couple of weeks, and the last post was an update on this very project, but there’s been another major change, even bigger than the last.

In the previous post, I wrote about a character I was struggling with, so I revised her completely. She was the same character, in essence, but her name had changed, her faith had changed, her relationships had changed, and I understood her better. I thought she was finally clicking into place like I needed her to, and I liked her a lot, which is vital. You can obviously write characters you dislike, villains exist and not every villain is cool and charming, but none of the characters in this story are antagonistic, and whilst I love a flawed protagonist, I still want them to be likeable.

But there was a fundamental problem; I enjoyed being in the other characters’ perspectives a whole lot more. That isn’t to say I disliked her, because I really liked her; she was multifaceted and complicated, she had interesting relationships with the other characters, and I did enjoy inhabiting her head and her perspective.

I just found myself wanting to be with the other characters more, sometimes a whole lot more. Obviously, this is problematic. If you, as a writer, are not enjoying a scene, a character, a plot element, it will come across in your writing, I believe that entirely. There is some good advice out there that every scene needs to be your favourite scene. I don’t know if it is entirely possible for every single scene to be the one you love most, but I certainly think you need to enjoy every scene. Given I was wishing to be in the next chapter with the next character when I was writing from her perspective, I think it’s pretty clear I wasn’t enjoying her scenes and her chapters as much as I should, as much as I wanted.

Admittedly, it’s strange to delete a character. This is still the first draft, so changes are abundant, but getting rid of a character completely is peculiar in a lot of ways. Characters become like old friends, I think, particularly if you’ve been working on projects for years. Project #1 is a little under a year old, and this character has already been changed once, but I was still connected to her. She wasn’t just some shapeless orb who moved when I told her to move in a scene, she was a formed character. Characters can be formed in a whole host of ways, and for me, once I name a character, I get a good sense of who they are. They still need some work, but once they’re named, they then get a family, then friendships, then fears and wishes, physical descriptions are also crucial. When all that comes together, they’re no longer just a shape of a person in my head, they come to exist. Even if it is existing in a fictional landscape, they are still people you come to know in a strange and abstract way.

So, when you have to make the decision that this character no longer exists, it’s almost bizarre. When I’m going back through a scene where she was once stood, and I’ve given some of her dialogue to other characters and I’ve shifted some of her relationships to the others, it’s almost like she exists as a ghost. I inhabit a character’s perspective, and I’m aware that there was once another character they were talking to, a best friend, a girlfriend, a cousin, and these characters have no knowledge of her, but I do, and so it begins to feel very Twilight Zone-esque. Undoubtedly, there will be ways that this character still impacts the novel, her absence in some ways is something I, and perhaps those who read these updates, will carry with me throughout the novel. I feel like I’m about to write an episode of Welcome to Night Vale, forever acknowledging someone else was once stood in this scene with these characters, but they have no memory of her.

But that’s what it means to write, sometimes. The decisions and changes you make still hang upon the novel, in its ether and context and background information. The story itself will not appear lacking of anything, not if written well enough obviously, but as the author, I will almost constantly acknowledge the changes that have been made to get to a finalised state. This doesn’t mean only character changes, but plot changes, anything at all that shifts is something I’m always aware of when I’m writing. Sometimes it’s a happy acknowledgement that the new direction is much stronger, and sometimes it’s a nostalgic, fond acknowledgement of what the story used to be, even if it is better now.

If you saw the last post, I wrote a hypothetical situation where a character’s name changed from Martin to Matt. Now, this change means in the first few chapters there is a character called Martin, then the next few have a character called Matt, and then suddenly that character’s gone completely. This is because I do like to write in mainly a chronological order, which means it’s quite fair to say this draft is perhaps one of the messiest and most inconsistent things I’ve ever written. But I think it’s fascinating to see things change and grow. It’s inconsistent now, but I can’t wait to go back through, whenever this first draft is in a more complete stage, and straighten out all those kinks, I can’t wait to see it in a version that’s a little more consistent. Even if only a couple of kinks get straightened out per draft, I think it’s one of the most satisfying things to see something you know is a mess get neatened. Rewriting scenes where a character who once stood there is now gone is quite a task, but it’s a satisfying task.

We’re also over 53,000 words, which is monumental. That 50,000 marker is always one to be proud of. It doesn’t matter that those 50,000 words are inconsistent and that the previous chapters are a mess of characters and early decisions that I have now changed, because there’s something on the page. The first step is always getting something down. Changes and revisions can come later, of which I know there will be plenty. Changes, like character deletion, are a sizeable task, daunting perhaps, a hard choice too given there will be connections to this person/character you’ve created from nothing. But you have to make hard decisions as a writer, the integrity and strength of the story has to come first. If that means deleting a character so you can explore the others in more detail and because you weren’t as interested in her as you were in the others, that’s just a decision that has to be made.

I was going to say there will probably be more distance between this update and the next for Project #1, but I didn’t quite expect to write this one so soon, so I can’t promise anything. Who knows, maybe the next update will be me saying, hey, you know that character who changed from Martin to Matt to then being gone entirely, well, I decided to reinsert them. It’s a first draft, absolutely anything can happen at this stage, and I’m just excited I get to share these changes with you.

Until next time,

Robyn x

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