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?