There’s something to be said for having an overflow of material for a new novel. Being overstocked with chapters, pages, characters, and scenarios can be a real pain, though, when I sit down to begin the arduous task of editing. That’s because I’m in love with every single one of my chapters, pages, characters, and scenarios in each and every one of my drafts. But they can’t all survive the knife, the delicate cutting that eventually reveals the survivors, who are looking pretty svelte if I do say so myself. The ones who make it out alive are lucky, and the ones who are left behind on the cutting room floor look up at me and always ask “Why?”
I always have my reasons, yet every single reason doesn’t truly answer the question. Sometimes the only reason a character gets the axe is because I have too many characters who are similar or who are just taking up space. So I’m sorry Colin for leaving you to fend for yourself. Occasionally I kill off a character because I was never able to find his/her voice. Forgive me Susie for writing you into a corner I wasn’t adept enough to get you out of without wasting too many pages on what would have eventually amounted to an unnecessary detour.
Then there are the characters who have done absolutely nothing wrong. They weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. They weren’t just there to take up space, and they had a distinct voice. They were just unlucky that the plot hinged on others and not on them. If they had just come along later in the process I could have gladly just spun them off into their own novels instead of this one. But they came early, they hung around, and then I had to say goodbye while they looked up at me with those accusatory looks.
And I’m sorry. I really and truly am. Sometimes these characters do show up again, fully fleshed out, in other pieces, be they other novels or short stories, or poems, or even in one of my two complete plays. Usually if I resurrect them from the ashes of their own demise it’s for reasons far beyond what they could have accomplished in the novel in question. Most times when they come back it’s to redeem themselves in my eyes, even if they never did anything wrong to begin with. They’re still my children, and they still deserve a chance to prove themselves.
To those who come back bigger and better than ever, that’s the answer to “Why?” Because it just wasn’t your time before. It wasn’t your time to shine, and later is. But to those who never show up again, whose ghosts still haunt me from the graveyard of lost characters, perhaps your time will come too. For now, though, there is no real answer to “Why?” For now there are just more questions that perhaps you could have answered if I had left you in as written.
But where’s the catharsis in that?