Bye-bye, Bob! Why Authors Delete Scenes & Characters
Updated: Aug 28, 2019
You’ve likely heard of movie scenes, even whole characters, being cut from a film, forever lost during the editing process. The same goes for books. Sometimes, the author must make a sacrifice of something he/she spent a whole day, week, month developing because, well, it simply didn’t work out.
The process might sound like the end of a relationship or, maybe, a dystopian story where someone must die to save the planet. For me, it’s all of the above with a little Sophie’s Choice and eating ones young, added for good measure. Regardless, I call these deleted characters and scenes “Bob,” and this is their story.
I can’t imagine that most authors enjoy cutting something from a manuscript. Each scene, each character, comes from that creative place within an author where books originate. The story is part of us and losing a portion is downright painful. But if, similar to a character, Bob didn’t turn out to be the hero or villain Chapter One claimed he would be, then, sadly, Bob has to go. It’s not easy. I might love Bob. He might remind me of my best friend or that auld lang syne from college. He was sure easy on the eyes in the rough draft, but later in the editing process, Bob gets in the way of the story, slows it down, takes a wrong turn, and no matter how much I love the guy, I soon realize that Bob has to die.
Whenever I feel a Bob moment coming on, I have to walk away, take a breather, do something while I not only contemplate Bob’s demise but also how I might fix other chapters/scenes to accommodate the loss. It’s messy, brutal at times, but necessary to keep the story going in the right direction. Still, what happens to my dead Bobs? Do I keep them on ice for later? Part them out in other scenes or books? Start a band and create lyrics in their memory? Uh, yep (except for the music part, which isn’t a bad idea). It’s very Frankenstein, but I do save all of my Bobs.
And now seems a good time to resuscitate a few—dust them off and expose them (out of context)—for possibly the last time. The following is an excerpt from one of my original Bobs that went bye-bye years ago. For those who read Dear Maude, this is what would have happened, had Gerd taken Emily to Easter brunch.
I cleared my throat and began to tell him all of the sordid details that led up to the previous night’s dinner invitation.
Gerd quietly listened.
By the time I’d finished, we had pulled into the restaurant parking lot. An awning-covered entrance and a parking attendant greeted us.
Gerd remained silent as we exited the car.
Great. I looked around at the sparse landscaping and then finally the entrance, hoping for any distraction to keep my mind off the fact that I’d probably blown it with Gerd.
We were seated in a bright, secluded corner of the restaurant and given huge menus to explore. I continued to hope for the best as I took the menu.
Once the maître d’ left, I looked at Gerd and noticed that he was staring at the table, absent-mindedly playing with his silverware.
My heart sank. I was certain that the poor guy was too polite to cancel breakfast, but was contemplating whether he should call me a cab or make me walk back to school.
The silence was unbearable. After a few more minutes of Gerd staring at the table, and my many doomsday scenarios shaping in my head, I couldn’t stand it anymore. ‘Say something, please!’
He slowly met my pleading gaze. ‘Sorry, it’s not often that I’m completely wrong about someone.’
I thought I would pass out. I was too embarrassed to blush; instead, I felt the color drain from my face.
Coffees, teas, and breakfasts arrived without any further discussion. After memorizing the number of curves along the border of my plate, I began to focus on the paper I would write for Sophia when I returned to the room. It was completed in my head before the check came.
I eliminated that scene and most of the original Chapter Three when I realized the story required a different conflict—Gerd needed to blow off Emily instead.
Not all Bob’s go that easily, however. Some fester for months before being removed in a more painful, amputation kind of way. Below is one of the many prologues I wrote for For the Love of Maude. Many Bobs died that summer while I searched for the sole survivor. Here is one of the casualties:
I didn’t exactly steal the car; I just borrowed it. But I doubt if others would see it that way if I were caught.
It was hard to believe that only two years had passed since this whole ordeal began. I was twenty-three, but I felt as if I had already lived several lifetimes—and in most ways I had. I hardly knew my name anymore; in fact, no one did. And my journal, the only thing that made any sense (my only form of sanity) was lying buried beneath a tree that I previously only heard stories about; a tree that Maude, my grandmother’s aunt, loved as if it were a favorite relative.
This was not the tree found only inside the fond memories of an old woman, however. Nor was it yet the ancient kind with roots in all directions and strong branches that would support the largest tree fort in the neighborhood. No, this tree was one that a child could hug daily while almost locking her fingers behind it. The tree was new to life similar to the ten-year-old who would soon grow to love it.
So there I sat, parked across the street from it, watching my breath fog up the car windows and hoping I hadn’t just made the second biggest mistake of my life. The first was my affiliation with Evergreen Research Corporation and its agenda to use time travel to change the past to their clients’ advantage. I wanted to put this all behind me but knew I couldn’t—in the time travel business, nothing was ever truly left in the past and there was little if any room for forgiveness.
All I knew for certain was that the sun would be up soon, and I had to return the car to the safe house I was supposed to be inhabiting. It was 1920, and a woman driving a car alone at night wasn’t completely in vogue yet; especially in a working-class neighborhood where a closed car normally driven by a chauffeur, such as the one I was occupying, might draw a crowd. I didn’t need the attention. No one did. So, I put the car in gear and took a final look at the tree and the journal buried beneath it.
‘Well, it’s too late to turn back now,’ I said to the night air.
I blew a kiss to my ‘Maude journal,’ as I called it, and the secrets it held and didn’t look back as I drove away.
Morbid as it is, deleting our beloved Bobs is just another part of the writing process. Thanks for helping me to honor a few of my loved ones. If you’re a writer and have some of your own, I’d love to hear about them.
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Next time, we’ll go to the movies.