Halloween special: Characters I've killed

graves Every writer has a few skeletons in the closet, and in this context I mean the bones of characters who appeared in the first draft, but who vanished without a trace before the story saw the dim light of a reader's beside lamp. (Another time I might talk about characters who were actually killed off in the story, or ones that were going to be killed but ended up with a reprieve.)

For me, this seems to happen mostly with the secondary and speaking extra cast (whereas primary characters are more likely to have reconstructive surgery, a la extreme makeover - more about that another time). So I present a small tribute to the characters I've cut from my stories, and the very good reasons for doing so.

1. Hamish. In the first novel I ever wrote (The Q Line - still lingering in my bottom drawer) the early drafts had this lovable tweenage character who injected some light relief into the story. Or so I thought. Actually, Hamish was an irritating, wide-eyed troublemaker who created a tone problem (who would have thought in a dark sci-fi?) and stole scenes from the main cast. Every person who read the draft hated him. Now, likeability isn't a must, but distraction from a pleasing tone and core story are mortal sins. Cut.

2. The Ambos and Mike. In my next novel Crystal Creek, the early drafts included two ambulance officers (whose names now escape me - probably more evidence to the wisdom of cutting them) and Mike, a friend of an important secondary character. The main problem with these three was that they created convenient situations for the heroine to solve certain problems. When I removed them, I actually forced the heroine to be more proactive, solving her own problems rather than having other characters prompting her to do so. It made a more compelling story for her, so Mike was eliminated, and the ambos reduced to speaking extra characters in one scene only.

3. The Unnamed Sister. In the first draft of Crystal Creek, the heroine had a sister who figured in a secondary plot. The trouble with this was what that plot did to the story - because of the kind of character she was, it injected a dark and melancholic tone, which was at odds with the overall tone of the book. So I cut the character along with the secondary plot (and later had to create a different character and a new secondary plot to take it's place).

Actually, as a writer, I seem to be much better at spawning characters in subsequent drafts than killing them, and some of them (like Valerie Turner in Ryders Ridge) are favourites of mine. The ones that get cut have some fundamental problem for the story. I was never going to care about them anyway, so the story is better off without them.

So if you're a writer, pay attention to the secondary cast if you have problems with tone or your primary characters being reactive or passive - maybe one of them could be sacrificed to give the main story room to move. And if you're a reader, I'd be curious to know any stories where you think a character would have been better off not being there! Happy Halloween :)