I often wonder what happens to those brilliant characters writers create that don’t quite fit into the novel they are writing.
When I was working on Lucy Springer Gets Even, I had an amazing time because so many of the characters could be drawn from real life – mothers in the school pick-up line, women at the gym, men and women I’d worked with. In fact, many of the characters, while essentially being made up, had very similar personality traits to people I’d met before. (Hence putting to bed the long running rumor about authors – though I can only speak for myself – yes, we do eavesdrop on conversations and then write about you – but generally speaking, vital statistics are changed to save us from totally plagiarizing our friends’ lives and getting sued. In truth, fictional characters are much larger than life. They may share elements of people we know but these are then exaggerated ten or twenty-fold to make for truly interesting and memorable characters.
These characters are like my children. I know what they look like, their daily habits and foibles, and am on first-name terms with their friends and enemies. I’ve tapped into their hopes and fears. In short, I know them better than they know themselves. And their greatest fear? Being cut from my manuscript, but sometimes it just happens.
There are characters I have written, who in the initial few chapters command significant page presence, only to find that a further couple of chapters along, they really aren’t that important after all and can be done away with or at least their attendance reduced to a fleeting bit part.
Maybe it’s because the main character or plot line has developed along a different path and that particular best friend, lover, or pregnant sister, is no longer necessary to keep the story moving forward. They are superfluous. But it’s still heartbreaking for me to relinquish them, especially after I have spent weeks and possibly months, molding their personalities, creating their identities and breathing life into them. (Am I being overly dramatic? Maybe, but I have spent upwards of 100 hours on these characters and feel like I really know them (yes, perhaps I need to get out more!).
Sometimes it turns out that a character I love is just too similar to the main character. In the past, I’ve written about people who share the same mannerisms and speech inflections without realizing it until I have re-read the entire manuscript. That’s when the hard decisions have to be made and characters cut or drastically altered.
So what happens after those characters are discarded? From my point of view, I can tell you they rarely get used again. Characters that were abandoned in Lucy Springer Gets Even sadly have not made it into subsequent manuscripts – even though they were interesting and entertaining personalities to write at the time. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved on, or the characters in my new manuscript have different friends…whatever it is, these rejected characters rarely see the light of day again.
It’s sad. A writer invests so much time creating compelling characters and when they don’t work out, it’s almost like a death in the family. ‘Where did Billy go?’
‘Ah Billy!’ you say, nodding your head sadly. ‘Billy didn’t fit in anymore.’
End of story. Sadly, Billy was written for a particular plotline. If he didn’t fit in there, it’s unlikely he’ll find a home elsewhere.
Favourite Food: Fresh seafood like lobster, snapper, prawns and mud crab
Favourite Drink: A crisp Petaluma Riesling
Author I like to read: Marian Keyes
Favourite Books: Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway series and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
If I was stranded on a desert island name the following three items I would take with me:
Person: Oh…controversial so I’ll say Jeff Probst (He’s hosted Survivor for 20 seasons so he’d know every survival trick… he’d also have some great stories.
Book: Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe. I haven’t read it, but being stranded on a desert island, it would no doubt come in handy.
Lisa Heidke lives in Sydney, Australia, and was a feature writer on several national magazines including Practical Parenting and Bride To Be, before leaving to pursue novel writing full-time.
Lucy Springer Gets Even (Allen & Unwin, 2009) is her first novel and was quickly followed by What Kate Did Next (2010). Her third novel, tentatively titled Claudia Changes Course, will be published early 2011.