I had to get rid of a character this week. His name was Mark Rowonowski, and he was a detective with the Delaware State Police.
Rowonowski was bald–shaved head kind of bald–and he had a scar on the bridge of his nose that ran down toward his left eye. The scar had not come from police work, and he never discussed how he got it. People asked, but he made it clear he wasn’t going to talk about it.
Rowonowski was barrel-chested and tall, and he wore neat but nondescript suits. He had a habit of squinting slightly when he spoke to someone, as if he was carefully considering every word the person said, or maybe questioning it. He wasn’t. The squinting was a habit he didn’t know how to break.
Rowonowski was good at his job, but he was impatient. He didn’t think he was impatient, but his mother, his sisters, his partner, even his dog, seemed to, and Rowonowski was self-aware enough to know if that many people agreed on something, it was probably true.
And he hated his cell phone. HATED IT. He’d been around long enough to have used a clip radio. He missed being able to turn off the radio and stick it in a drawer. But his cell…he had to have the damn thing nearby 24/7. About once a week, he fantasized about boarding the Cape May Ferry and, halfway into the 17-mile trip, throwing his cell phone into the Delaware Bay. Some weeks, his fantasy including setting the phone on fire first.
In his personal life, he had a partner, Eric. Eric was a businessman of some kind. They’d met in college, and then Eric married a woman, and after that didn’t work out, he and Rowonowski reacquainted through mutual friends. And so on. They’d been together 8 years. They talked about getting married, but Rowonowski had hesitations. Not about Eric, but about the old school guys at work. And the fuss of a wedding. Rowonowski didn’t like fusses, and luckily neither did Eric, and so they figured they’d get a license and have a small ceremony in the back yard with friends. No set date, but soon.
Eric didn’t appear in the story because Rowonowski’s personal life wasn’t part of his role in the plot. Rowonowski’s role was to interview the protagonist–a teacher– about an incident at school. His weird squinting thing was off-putting, and the scar on his nose distracted her, but his questions made her worry about one of her students. After the interview, she confronted the student, which made him do something stupid, which drove the plot to the next scene. Rowonowski’s mission in the story was accomplished.
Later, because the setting is a small Delaware town, the protagonist ran into Rowonowski, and he’d heard about something good that happened to her, and he congratulated her. He was like that. An efficient guy with a few quirks and a nice side. Like a real person.
Rowonowski had two relatively short scenes in my story, but I gave him plenty of background, in part because that’s what writers do. They know much more about a character than ever appears on the page. The second reason I gave him so much backstory is that I liked him. Writers do that too. We fall for some characters more than others. I liked writing Rowonowski. I wondered about his scar. I didn’t know where it came from, either.
So with all of this background, imagine my dismay when my beta reader returned my pages with the comments, “Do you really need Rowonowski? Can’t XXX do the interview? And that second meeting, can’t that be cut completely?”
The answer was no, and then yes and another yes. I didn’t really need Rowonowski, because XXX could indeed do the interview. And in fact, it would be better if XXX did the interview because he was a bigger part of the story, and XXX and the protagonist would benefit from more time together on the page. That would make the second meeting with Rowonowski superfluous.
My beta reader was right, and so there came the painful decision: get rid of Rowonowski.
I didn’t reassign him or kill him or disgrace him. I did worse. I deleted him.
Deleting a character is rough. First, there’s all the work you put into the scene where he appears. You think that squinting thing invented itself? I had to come up with that, and use it, and make sure it made sense in the scene, and that it served the function of distracting my protagonist. And the personal background, that was gravy, but still, I put time into it because I needed to understand Rowonowski in order to make him consistent and logical as a character.
Now I don’t need any of that. No scar. No cell phone fantasy. No small back yard wedding. It’s sad. Now that I’m deleting him, I’m kind of sorry I ever invented him.
Bye bye, Rowonowski. You no longer exist. There’s a chance I’ll use you in a future story, but I suspect not. I geared you so much to this one, I’m not sure I can picture you in someone else’s plot, so I guess this is your eulogy. If it’s any comfort, this hurts me more than it hurts you.
Have you ever cut out a character you invented, and liked, or maybe hated, for the good of the story? What does your deletion graveyard look like?
25 thoughts on “The Deletion Graveyard”
Great post. Love the detail you had on Rowonowski (and love his name). Do resurrect him for a future book or story!
Judy, thank you for the comment! I loved Rowonowski’s name too, until I had to type it multiple times. It’s a finger-twister.
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Oh, dear. I like him, too, now. But tell us more about the graveyard. I hope it’s a nice well-marked folder where Rowonowski has his own subfolder. Because he might demand to appear in the sequel. Or in a short story, with Eric in there, too. You never know. And with all that work on him, it’d be a shame not to reuse him.
I have a Deleted Scenes folder in every Scrivener project. This is a good reminder for me to go back and check it when I start the next book in the series!
I hope you find something fab in your deleted folder, Edith!
I was all set never to revisit Rowonowski. Now, maybe the story of the scar might need telling. Unfortunately, he won’t tell me how he got it! Maybe Eric can get it out of him….
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That’s the thing with those ethnic names. They’re great – right up until you have to type it multiple times! I have one scene with a SERT officer Gryzbowski. Wanna guess how long it took me to shorten that to “G”? LOL
I did delete a character, but I did it accidentally. My old deputy coroner. He was a fishing buddy of the protagonist’s. Older guy, widowed – I have the whole history somewhere. But then in one story I needed a coroner who didn’t know the protagonist and, well, he kinda refused to leave after that one story. 🙂
Rowonowski is getting his revenge by making me type his name multiple times today! I tried to shorten it to calling him Mark, but he refused to answer. I’m glad “G” was more cooperative.
As long as you don’t kill a character, they can come back. Deleting is a whole different issue. They seem to haunt you…..
Maybe Rowonowski needs his own story.
I’ve deleted characters, too, but most of the time, they show up in another story. I move them off stage for this one, but they aren’t truly GONE. And one time I was about to delete a character, but he protested loudly and confessed a secret to me that I hadn’t previously known…something that made him integral to the plot. Sometimes they just refuse to die. OR be deleted.
Maybe once you create a character, they are in the aether and just float around until they are ready to be used again. Or they are more aggressive and use the old “I have a secret” trick on you!
Good post, Ramona. I had to delete a bad guy in a recent manuscript, and not just one bad guy, but another bad guy and an entire plot thread involving a school for troubled kids. It was very hard, and I resisted for a long time, but after an agent and an independent editor advised me to lose these characters and the school because they felt they didn’t belong in the story, I finally did. Don’t know if I’ll use them in another book. Maybe. I certainly put a lot of energy into creating these villains.
Ack, Leslie, an entire storyline is a real sacrifice, but good for you for recognizing what had to be done to make the story work best. I recognize your pain–it’s tough to create people and then not to allow them to live on the page.
What’s really tough is deleting a character who has appearead in previous books in a series and readers love him/her, but you’ve simply got too many characters to deal with, so somebody has to gol. Luckily, in a mystery, you can kill them off. Or send them to prison until you need them again.
Rowonowski got his nose scar from wearing an ill-fitting football helmet in junior high.
Ha ha, a football injury! No wonder it wouldn’t speak to me.
I advise writers often to combine characters. That’s easy to do in a manuscript. Not so easy once the character appears in print.
I have whole books in the graveyard! Also a few proposals for series. Since I tend to write a tight, short first draft, I don’t usually have anything to cut. Sometimes I have to add a character. What I DO use from my graveyard are settings. My very first novels were written with much description (and many adjectives), but they were fresh in my mind. So if I want to use that setting, I go back to them and rewrite and use the settings.
That’s interesting, Kaye, that you write short but your first novels had much description. It sounds like you found your true writing style along the way. But great that you saved all of those descriptions!
Well, my very first novel was ripped apart by Janet Reid, no less. She asked if there had been a sale on adjectives. I cried afterward, but knew she was right–eventually. First, I went on to write another one just like it, then I reformed.
Good bye, Mark R., hate to see you go. I had a likable character in my manuscript, and I sadly killed him in the middle of my mystery. My beta readers said, “But we liked Will.” So I rewrote and found a way to bring him back. This way I can use him later in another book in the series.
Grace, this seems to be a common theme: we create them, we kill them, we change our minds and bring them back. Not sure if Rowonowski will meet the same fate, but I’m sure he’d appreciate you hate to see him go!
Bradbury wrote about the drawer in which he kept the pages cut out and stories that didn’t work, fodder to inspire during dry spells. He may come back from there someday when you most need him.
I think most writers have “cuts” folders like this, Mary. I look through mine from time to time. sometimes I am very surprised at what is there!
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I really liked Rowonowski, and I hate to get rid of characters I like. But in my first novel, not done yet, but a book of short stories is, I wrote myself into a corner and had to get rid of my protagonist’s husband and his mother. These were sad but lead to some emotional scenes, which were good.
What I hated most, though, was losing the whole first chapter of my novel. It was the basis, I thought, for the novel, the backstory. But my online critique group and my local writers’ group advised me to drop it and start with the second chapter. So, I did, reluctantly, very reluctantly.
I think the toughest thing we have to do as writers is to ‘kill our darlings.’
BR, getting good advice about an opening is a wonderful benefit of critique groups. Knowing when to start a story is also tricky, but usually it’s when the current action begins. It sounds as if you got good advice. Backstory, while important, can bring a story to a dead halt if it is not carefully placed.
I’ll miss Rowonowski, despite our brief, almost acquaintance. I hope he becomes friends with the other characters in your deleted folder!
I haven’t x’d out a character yet (working on my second novel). But I do have a folder with clever lines and funny remarks I had to delete. I know I’ll never get to use them, but I’m too emotionally involved to throw them away!
Thanks for your comment, Vickie. I’m sure Rowonowski, and Eric, and all of the deleted characters in the graveyard appreciate your sentiments! It is good to know he made an impact in his brief life in my manuscript.
Keep that folder and visit it often. Sometimes you find gems you may forgotten all about.
I’m feeling resentful. I was all excited about non-white bread Rowonowski. Ramona you are a huge tease.
Another way to “kill your darling” before they become real!