This post is partly for fun, partly as a procrastination exercise. I had a wonderful meeting with my editor and agent yesterday and as a result of the thinking I’ve done since then, I’ve decided to get rid of one of my characters and I imagined the following exchange between myself and that character:
Here is the scene: A man sits on a bench under a wooden sign saying ‘Characters’ waiting room‘. To the left, there is a door with the word Author etched on the glass. The door opens.
Me: ‘Come in, Graham, and take a seat. I think we both know why you’re here, don’t we?’
Graham: ‘I know. I’m not interesting enough, am I? I’m not doing enough in this novel at the moment. But listen, I promise I’ll – ‘
Me: (sighing) ‘Graham, it’s not so much that you’re not interesting. You do have your good qualities – why do you think you made it to the end of the first draft? I don’t like doing this, you know. It hurts me far more than it hurts you.’
Graham: (Looking miserable) ‘You say that, but you authors always play fast and loose with us characters. You don’t really care about us.’
Me: ‘That’s not true, Graham. I’ve grown fond of you over the last few months, very fond indeed, but… oh dear, how do I put this? Look, it’s not you, it’s me. I just don’t feel strongly enough about you any more; I don’t feel I can fully commit to this relationship.’
Graham: ‘I’m sure I could do something to make you feel differently.’ (he looks up, suddenly quite excited) ‘How about if I did something unexpected; or something outrageous! What about if –’
Me: (shaking my head) ‘You see, this is one of the problems, Graham. You’re just not consistent, are you? Doing something unexpected – or even outrageous – could be interesting, but only if the reader is going to believe that it’s within your character to do that. And I don’t think you’ll convince them. One minute, you’re being a macho dickhead, the next, you’re Mr Nice Guy; Mr Wise and Understanding. You’re all over the place, mate. And let’s be completely honest – you’re not really a “do something outrageous” sort of character, are you? I mean, you’re very nice and all that, but basically, you’re – ‘
Graham: Boring. (He hangs his head, looks sad).
Me: ‘No, you’re not boring – I loved all that stuff about when you were in the RAF, and how you were injured when your plane was shot down and all that. But I’ve got to be honest, I brought you in for one specific purpose, and now I’ve had a bit of a rethink, that scene is going to be cut so you’re just… I’m sorry, Graham, but there’s no other way of putting it, I don’t need you any more.’
Graham: ‘You don’t need me anymore?’
Me: ‘I suppose there are other ways of putting it. You’re unnecessary; you’re superfluous; you’re redundant; you’re surplus to requirements; you’re – ‘
Graham: ‘All right, all right. I get the message. You don’t have to say the same thing four different ways, you know. I may be superfluous but I’m not stupid.’
Me: ‘Sorry, Graham. It’s one of my flaws as an author – I sometimes repeat the same idea. See? It’s not only you who gets things wrong. Now, I don’t want to rush you, but there are a few more characters I need to have a word with.’
Graham: ‘So you mean I’m not the only one who’s getting chucked out of this novel?’
Me: ‘Well, there’s Catherine – did you meet her? I gave her her marching orders last night, but she’s so insignificant, you probably wouldn’t remember her anyway. If you take the lift down to the basement, you’ll find a collection of other characters that I’ve had to, shall we say, let go over the years. In fact, there’s even another young woman from this novel… oh no, wait – she was before your time. Ah well, I’m sure you’ll find someone down there to talk to.’
Graham: (Standing, nodding) ‘Okay, I’ll go and join the others. Just one thing…’ (he looks up, hopefully) ‘Is there a chance you might need me again later? Either in this novel, or perhaps in something else?’
Me: ‘There’s always a chance, Graham.’
Graham: ‘Shall I give you a call, then?’
Me: ‘I’ll be in touch if I need you. You’ve been a great help, really. You’ve helped me to understand things about the other characters, and I really appreciate it. Off you go now, And can you send Muriel in next, please? She’s staying in the novel, but I really need to talk to her about how she reveals things to the reader.’
Me: ‘Sorry to rush you, Graham, but I have a lot of characters to talk to.’
Graham sighs, nods sadly and waits for the lift that will take him down to the cavernous vaults of the Home for Redundant Characters.