Working on the edit today, I realized a thing.
When I set about the not-insignificant task of changing Accidentally Inspired from a stage play to a novel, one of many changes I orchestrated on the front end (read: before I actually got into the draft and all the pieces started coming off like a bunch of janky flywheels) was the addition of a love interest.
It seemed natural. Still seems natural. She’s not out of place in the narrative. I think I gave her a totally plausible raison d’etre or however you say that fancy French thing. I like her character, but I’m not like in love with her character (that would mean I had invented a character too perfect and would therefore be a Bad Thing). She plays a role in the story but is not, strictly speaking, critical to it. All in all, for a late addition to the party, I’m pretty pleased with her. However, I’m afraid that she may be entirely out of place in the novel.
I can’t be sure. I waited a good six, seven weeks to dive in and start the edit, which I think has been enough time for me to distance myself from the prose. However, in reading this character, I begin to wonder. When I originally conceived of this idea, oh, let’s just call it ten years ago, the principal ten characters sprung immediately and organically into being. Each played his or her role perfectly, fitting together like jigsaw pieces. Now, revisiting the story, changes are inevitable. As I’ve noted before while I was writing the draft, in its translation to the long-form novel, the story has sprouted new legs and arms, a tail and a few new tongues. New characters sprung up like strangling weeds, and strangely, each seems to fit the new narrative just as well — if in a smaller capacity — as the originals. To be fair, the love interest fits in there, too. But to stick with the puzzle metaphor, the thing is not finished yet. I’ve got the edges and the corners built, and I’m working my way in to the meaty center, and a lovely picture of a foggy London Bridge is taking shape. Problem is, the love interest sure looks like a foggy bit of bridge or possibly a bit of misty waterfront, but it’s possible, just possible, that she’s a piece of the Golden Gate instead. You know, she’d fit the theme, but it’d be wrong to say she was intrinsically a part of things.
Problem is, of course, that now the demon of doubt has its scouring claws in my brainmeats over the whole thing, and now my entire take on the character is tinged with the unmistakable feel of overthinking. Am I resisting her because she’s not a part of the original narrative and thus feels unnatural? Is she just fine where she is and she’s only tripping my radar because I’m hypersensitive to imperfections in the draft? Maybe she’s truly honestly unnecessary and I’m ignoring my genuine justified doubt over her in a bid to cater to a hypothetical audience I’ve not even earned yet? Probably, as with so many things involved in this process, it feels murky because the mushy center of this narrative cake hasn’t finished cooking yet, and I won’t really be able to iron out an answer until I clean up the story a good bit. Maybe my keyboard needs more chemicals to properly ponder the question.
One way or another, I’m going to have to make a call on this girl sooner or later. Problem is, having woven her somewhat intricately into the draft, I’m terrified at the prospect of having to remove her thread. If there’s nothing wrong with her and I cut her out, then I’ve defaced this tapestry ostensibly for nothing. On the other hand, if she’s poisoned and I don’t cut her out, she could rot the whole project from the inside.
Like so many other things, the best I can do for now is flag her for further consideration and toss her on the pile of “deal with this later.” That’s a pile of problems I started in the draft and which is growing at an alarming rate since I picked up the edit. I imagine that in just a little while it will develop its own gravity and pull me through a ripple in spacetime where my story will stretch out to infinity and the only sustenance I’ll have is my own failed, mangled prose, squealing like that belly-alien thing in Total Recall for me to put it out of its misery.