Character Assassination

Last evening, I found myself up to my elbows in a sink full of sudsy water. I was, technically, doing the washing-up, but of course my brain was in a land far, far away, stuck in the land of the WiP, where it lives most of the time, now. I’m going to start answering to the name of my protagonist soon, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, I’d just scrubbed a particularly reluctant plate clean of whatever was determined to cling to it, when something burst, screaming, into my head.

It was a bit like this, but with less horse and more suds. Sort of.

It was a bit like this, but with less horse and more suds. Sort of.

My brain yelled ‘Kill the Guardian!’, which – to anyone else – would have been the first indicator of impending mental illness. To me, though, it was one of those moments of pure epiphany, when everything starts to click into place, and you wonder why you couldn’t have had this breakthrough while sitting at your computer, instead of up to your metaphorical neck in water.

For the Guardian, you see, is (or rather, was) a peripheral character who used to live in the end of my book. Now that I think about it, I’ve no idea why he was ever there in the first place. It just seemed natural, when I was writing my climactic final scene, that our heroine wouldn’t encounter the great unknown, for which she has been seeking, without having someone there to guide her, and to explain things. All the re-reads and edits I’d done up to yesterday had just skipped over this character like he was a piece of furniture – he was just supposed to be there, no question about it. I didn’t even really examine his dialogue in any great detail. But there was something just not… right about the last scenes in my final chapter. It had been bugging me all evening, and I couldn’t pinpoint what was making me so dissatisfied.

And then it occurred to me.

There’s no need to have the Guardian there at all. Our heroine is a strong character by the end of the book. She starts off a bit sappy, maybe, but by the end she’s been through enough to handle this. She doesn’t need anyone there to hold her hand. The Guardian was a redundant character, and when that became clear, things started to work better. I realised that I’d written the Guardian character to suit the type of character my heroine was in my book’s first draft – in the first draft, you see, she didn’t develop as much as she does now. She started off sappy, and she pretty much stayed sappy the whole way through. In the current draft, I think she shrugs off the ‘little girl’-ness of the early chapters when she’s shoved out into the world, and she realises she’s braver and stronger than she ever thought. The protagonist of draft 1 needed the Guardian to help her at the end of the book, but the protagonist of draft 5 (I think it’s draft 5, anyway) does not. This makes me happy for many reasons. It means I’ve trimmed the book of an excess character, who was providing an unnecessary extra layer between the reader and the action right at the point when they’re supposed to be biting their fingernails off with the tension of what’s going on (ideally), and it also means that my heroine has a proper character arc. In other words, she’s not the same person at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. Like anyone going through a huge life-change at the age of sixteen, she changes. And that is, of course, important.

As soon as I’d thought of removing the extra character, before I’d even had a chance to remove my hands from the washing-up, I was already mentally rewriting the chapter without the Guardian’s involvement. I was reallocating some of his dialogue to another character, and just getting rid of huge swathes of it, too. It felt brilliant. When I sat down to make the changes, they pretty much wrote themselves – it was the easiest edit I’ve done yet. I hope the ease with which I made the changes means they’re ‘right’ – certainly, I think the chapter works much better as it is now.

I do have two other big changes to make (another note to fellow writers: make sure you have all the notes you made during your editing read-throughs in front of your face when you’re making your ‘final’ edit, or you’re bound to forget something!), and then – finally – I can give myself the Christmas present of a big pile of paper with some black marks on it. Wahoo! Happy days.

In other news: my husband and I are putting up our Christmas decorations today. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Jingle bells, baby.

Happy Friday!

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