Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cutting Characters

A poem by Austin Kleon, author of Newspaper Blackout. (The text reads: so/they look/as they did when I was 10/the Old King/and his queen/ my parents/ The size of/Egyptian/ sculptures, all/ Secrets/ that/ I didn't know)

And a nice image for my past month of editing.

I've just finished cutting five characters out of Once We Were Bears in an attempt to fix a problem that had been worrying at me and that my beta-reader confirmed: many people die after the middle section, making that one and the third feel disconnected. I'm pretty sure the character-cutting hasn't solved this; any future reader may very well still feel as though characters they spent time with are just dropped. It's just that now there are are fewer named characters for whom that will be the case.

So the problem's not solved. BUT, making these cuts did shorten the middle section considerably. I'm now at about 92,000 words (down from the all-time high of about 130,000). That feels good, as I'm now closer to the upper range for a middle-grade novel.

What was interesting to me in the process of making these cuts were first, it was actually very easy to excise these characters. It always takes a long time for me to get through the whole (because I read it aloud as I edit), but I didn't have to substantially change that much. Which says to me that these characters may not have been all that central to the story in the first place. And second, I was never really in love with these folks. Mostly because I felt like I'd never really nailed down their names. There's something that happens when I've got the right name for a character. Only then do I have the character. And I just didn't have these five. So, tho' I may not have fixed the big, bad, I think the novel is more trim and fit in its present state.

RIP, Lexie, Alex, Zander. Sleep well, Mikey and Rebekah. If I find your true names in dream, I'll write you anew.


Qlaudie said...

Excellent. Congratulations. And I know what you mean about names... One of the first novels I attempted to write, I had a main character named Maya. It was all wrong - and I woke up from a dream one night thinking, "Lana!"... changed her name, and the character finally gelled. Crazy, that!

Jon said...

Way to go, Lisa. That type of decision can be hard, but I agree with your Beta Reader, naming the kids and then killing them? Heavy stuff, maybe too heavy for Beryl to carry. Good luck on your new edits!

Mark Teats said...

I applaud your cutting vigor. Difficult to do!