How to Eliminate a Major Player in your Story and Live to Tell About It ~ M.S. Spencer

Every once in awhile a publisher will call you and say, “We love your story, except for one teensy part.”

“Not a problem,” you say. “Now what would that teensy part be?”

He casually drops the bomb: “We’d like you to move the setting from Milwaukee to Beirut,” or “revise the denouement so the heroine saves the hero rather than the other way around,” or “let the villain get away.”

Some writers will throw up their hands, withdraw the submission and stalk off in a huff. If you’re Truman Capote, that may work.* If you’re not, and you sensibly recognize that the editor and publisher probably have more experience than you in what their readers want, you consent. Not, of course, until after moaning, whining, stomping around your study, yelling at the cat, taking long healthful walks and long unhealthy swigs at a beer bottle, and miscellaneous other methods of letting off steam.

*Actually Capote never received a rejection in his life—deal with the devil? You be the judge.

Still, you love your story. You want people to read it. You want to sell copies. So you sit down, head in hands, and ponder: how do I completely revamp my manuscript?

Once I was asked to eliminate an entire character from my manuscript.  My heroine was a writer, an introvert who spent a lot of time alone. Dialogue only appeared in fits and spots. Enter Michaela, a pixie (imaginary friend if you will) who accompanied my heroine on her adventures, nagging, cajoling, advising. My editor didn’t find her appealing and asked me to delete her. I played with various scenarios, including the following:

  •  Eliminate the character entirely.  Play a mind game: what would happen if you simply deleted every mention of the character?
  •  Convert all internal scenes into dialogue and add a live person to the story mix.
  • Add a new, better character to take over that role.

Here’s how it went.

When I tried to delete her entirely I discovered that Michaela played a very important role as foil to my heroine. Without her my heroine would be wandering around with no one but the hero and villain to bounce ideas off—an unrealistic and, in the case of the villain, dangerous thing to do. So, Michaela had to remain in some form. Since an imaginary friend was out, I had to somehow turn her into a live person but one who could interact with my introvert heroine even when she was alone.

Answer? Skype. Writer has laptop. Laptop has Skype. Heroine has a mother with qualities remarkably similar to the late Michaela (as well as Skype), who pops up anytime she wants to converse with her daughter via computer.

After all the sturm und drang, having to make such a huge alteration became not only a wonderful writing exercise, but taught me that any work can be improved and that with luck (and a beer) you soon forget those beautiful words scattered on the cutting room floor.

See if you think it worked:

In Losers Keepers, my third novel, Dagne Lonegan’s advice column alarmingly mirrors her life when a murder is committed her first week on Chincoteague, while two lovers vie for her affections.

Published July 2011 by Secret Cravings Publishing

eBook, 72,000 words, ISBN: 978-1-936653-95-9; print 978-1-61885-081-2

Contemporary romantic suspense, M/F, 3 flames

Dagne Lonegan, aka Dear Philomena, advice dispenser extraordinaire, hoped that spending a year on the Eastern Shore island of  Chincoteague to write her novel would clear her sinuses, if not her heart, of any feelings for Jack Andrews, erstwhile lover and long-time jerk.  It’s just her luck that her first week on the island she’s in the right place at the right time to be involved with a murder.  Only she doesn’t know it.  Unfortunately, the murderer doesn’t know she doesn’t know.  Strange and dangerous things begin happening to her, interfering with her new romance with Tom Ellis, the handsome manager of the National Wildlife Refuge.  Complications ensue when her Jack arrives to take charge of the murder investigation.

Will Dagne stick with the tall, cool glass of a Ranger or fall back into the arms of her first tempestuous passion?

Excerpt (PG), Losers Keepers by M. S. Spencer

Jack called the next morning. He sounded very businesslike. She knew him well enough to know that her chilly reaction to his phone call last night had sloughed off him like dead skin on a snake. If he even had a clue that he’d insulted her. “Can you come down to the station, Dagne?”

“The police station?” She could be as dispassionate as he. I’m not going to let him know he hurt me. Again.

“Yes, I want you to listen in on our interview with the witness we found. I know you don’t think you saw anything that night on the trail, but maybe something he says will trigger a memory.”

Ignoring the catch in her throat, Dagne squeaked, “All right. What time?”

“He should be here any minute. We’ll take our time with the preliminaries if you can get here in the next twenty minutes?”

Dagne looked at her tired, blotchy face in the mirror. Remember, unemotional, professional, detached. “I’ll do my best.” She whipped into the shower, toweled off, threw on a white blouse and soft blue-gray cardigan that highlighted the blue flecks in her eyes, and a slim, gray corduroy skirt. The police station, like almost everything else on Chincoteague, sat less than a mile away.

She breezed into the building and stopped. Tom stood before the desk. “Oh. Hi.”

He turned in surprise. “Hi yourself. What are you doing here?”

“Er, Mr. Andrews asked me to come down. Something about a witness?”

“Oh, you mean Elmer?” Tom’s attempt at off-hand banter came off more like an uneasy growl. “I saw him come in. What do they want with him?”

She was about to answer when a warning tinkle sounded in her head, followed by the click of a knob turning. Jack walked in through a side door. “Ah, Dagne, there you are.” He peered at Tom’s uniform. “Ellis? You’re the refuge manager, aren’t you?”

Tom twirled his ranger hat and glared at Jack. “Superintendent. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, yes. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Andrews, isn’t it? State police?”

He managed to turn the question into a patronizing snub.

Jack’s visage showed no sign of acknowledging the shot. “Yes.”

When it appeared no more would be forthcoming Tom coughed. “Sergeant Hill here tells me you’re still working on that murder case we had a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been out of town for awhile. Annapolis.” Jack remained silent and after a minute he attempted a more casual tone, without audible success. “So, any news on the investigation?”

Jack paused for a fraction of a second. The two men sized each other up while the sergeant watched them carefully. No one looked at Dagne. “Um, nothing so far. I presume the Chincoteague police are keeping you apprised of developments?”

“Uh, yeah, sure. Naturally. I was…er…just passing by, thought I’d look in.” No one responded. Tom hesitated, then scowled at the sergeant. “Talk to you later, Steve. Dagne?” He tipped his hat at her but kept his mocha-colored eyes fastened on Jack, turned on his heel and stalked off through the front door.

Jack waited for the door to close completely. As he swung around Dagne glimpsed a flash of twisting emotion on his face. Ha. The green-eyed monster. Before she had a chance to savor the little thrill it gave her to watch him suffer, he took her arm, an inscrutable mask veiling his thoughts. “So, Dagne, would you come with me? I want you to listen to the boy’s story.”

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