All (well, some) of the Cuts from Kathleen’s Debut

We’re talking about deleted scenes this week, and there were so many iterations of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes that I don’t know where to start. Here are a few of the major and minor cuts I made during the four years I worked on the novel:

  • A very minor character named Erin Warner used to be a POV character. In fact, the chapters that are now Tracy’s were originally hers. Now, Tracy seems to be a lot of readers’ favorite character. She’s an unusually poised and self-aware ninth-grader who both loves her mother and discerns her (many) flaws. Erin, on the other hand, was petty and immature and sort of a caricature of a teen on the religious right. The conflict in the book used to come from Erin and her mother, but it makes oodles of more sense for it to come from Tracy, and boy am I grateful for the suggestion to make this change. Tracy begins to judge her mother’s life choices because of what she learns in her favorite teacher’s class. She connects my two narratives, and she proves Isobel’s efficacy as a teacher.
  • I had so much fun including the ridiculousness of school life in the book that I ended up having to cut a few of the faculty-meeting details. One year, my principal made the teachers pair up, share cell phone numbers, and text each other three things we were grateful for each day. He called this initiative “gratitude buddies,” and I thought it was incredibly contrived. I put gratitude buddies in Minor Dramas early on. Isobel’s partner was none other than her professional nemesis, Eleanor. I thought it was funny, but it didn’t really fit and people didn’t get it. Cut, cut, cut.
  • I added Isobel’s sister and the storyline about their father’s sordid past in a late stage. I overdid the insertion of this particular piece of backstory and then ended up cutting ten or fifteen references to Isobel’s hand-me-down outfits. Oops! But, at least this fix was easy.
  • Jamie’s arc was the opposite of the sister problem–extremely difficult and requiring of so much revision and tweaking over the years. When I first started writing, Jamie wasn’t a villain at all. Later, my friend Chadd helped me realize that she most definitely was. Jamie’s character changed so many times that it was hard to keep track of her personal details. In the final versions, I ended up cutting scenes with her parents, whom she tried hard to please. I think I needed to know about those interactions myself, but the reader didn’t need to see them. That’s actually something I do over and over again: I write the scenes I need to see, but end up cutting them because all they do for the reader is slow them down.

I wish there were a way to streamline the process of writing a novel, but so far I haven’t found it. My second novel (ARE WE THERE YET? out March 2021!) also has a phantom major character who was cut completely from the narrative. I’m already trying to guess which character will end up in the garbage in my third novel, but it’s simply too early to tell. I’m keeping them all… so far.

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

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