The cutting pain

Cutting out characters is a terrible thing. And yet sometimes, it has to be done. This is one of the cruel truths of writing fiction.

I finally started the proper edit/rewrite of my novel (DV for short) this weekend. I’m calling it the first draft, because really, my Nanowrimo efforts (from 2008 and 2011) made up more of a zero draft.

I really like the concept of a zero draft. (See e.g. Justine Larbalestier’s post on the concept.) It’s awesomely freeing – just get the words out and don’t worry, because see, it’s not even a first draft yet! This is part of a “Nanowrimo” way of writing, I think, and it really works for me.

I used to be one of those people who never got longer works finished because I ended up editing and rewriting the first couple of chapters for ever and ever (hello, high fantasy princess story from my teen years!). Then I did Nanowrimo for the first time in 2008, and it changed everything. Seriously. I went from a writer who couldn’t get anything finished, who had trouble getting lots of text out, to a writer who can rattle out first (zero) drafts without worrying too much. What does that mean? It means I can now get the crap out first, and I’ve become comfortable with editing. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and the “Nanowrimo method” has helped me get over perfectionism in the first crucial stages of a project. Yes, I still want to get my text to the best possible level. But I now realise it can’t be perfect from the start, and that it’s much easier to edit a hundred pages of quickly-written zero-draft text than it is to edit an empty page.

This method also helped me immensely when writing my master’s thesis, so it’s applicable for all you non-novelists out there too! 🙂 I realise not everyone will like the Nanowrimo method of writing, of course not. Use whatever works for you! But as for me: I’m really happy writing like this. First the frantic zero draft; then, the first, second, third, etc….

I should admit that now is my first time ever really finalising a novel. All my other attempts are still firmly at zero draft level. So this is all new (and a bit alarming)! Still, I’m pretty sure the layered method of editing will work for me. I’m excited to see what eventually emerges. Writing a novel is difficult but wonderful.

Difficult brings us back to the original point of this post (I really rambled there, didn’t I?). Mainly, cutting characters. The thing is: my main POV characters, who are siblings, originally had a younger sister, Marianne. She’s’s a cute little button of a teenager: likes Jane Austen and gothic novels, has snappy exchanges of dialogue with her siblings, and is really adorbs. I like her.

But I think she has to go. While she’s a cute character, and I really like the three-sibling dynamic in a couple of scenes, there are several reasons for removing her, such as:

– concentrating on just the two POV siblings makes several themes of the book clearer,
– Marianne appears in a couple of rather pivotal scenes but as a background character – she doesn’t really have significant motivations of her own,
– she distracts from some elements I want to highlight,
– even though she’s cute, she’s not really that vital.

So, yeah. Objectively, Marianne must go. It’ll make for a clearer, more focused story. Subjectively, though? The horror! I’m just in the process of rewriting some scenes from the start of the book that included her, and my heart bleeds whenever I delete her name and lines. She had such cute lines! And I’m not sure they can be switched to anyone else. Oh the sibling banter!

I feel like I’m murdering poor Marianne. I’m pretty sure I’m doing the right thing, and I can always resurrect her or a character very like her in a later story or novel – but ye gods, I feel like a cruel writer-monster!

Kill your darlings indeed.