This week we’re talking about deleted scenes or pieces we cut from our novels and why we cut them. Funny thing, though, is that I don’t really have any deleted scenes for The Perfect Assassin. I have scenes I wrote in earlier drafts that don’t exactly show up in the final version, but often they’ve been rewritten and tweaked and repurposed through the process, steadily morphing from one thing to another, instead of simply being snipped out in a second-to-final draft or a pique of editing madness.
Now, for the second book, The Impossible Contract, I do indeed have deleted scenes, because I had to take that monster of a book and all its 135k words and squeeze it down to 105k. But even then, the pieces cut were largely paragraphs here and there and extraneous exposition and description, instead of any wholesale pieces.
So when is a scene a deleted scene? Or is it just draft after draft, iteration after iteration, molting through subsequent layers of rough, dry skin until you get to the sleek scales that were always, somehow, underneath?
I’m not sure, but I’m not sure it matters, either. Even if the author can see the re-purposed pieces and parts and emotional beats, the reader might not. After all, every draft is haunted by the ghosts of drafts past, and none more so than the Final (TM) draft. It can be difficult to see through all those layers of rewrites and deletions to remember what’s actually on the page.
But, after a while, those ghosts do give up and move on. For this blogpost, I opened up my very first draft of TPA – then titled, Amastan NaNoWriMo Draft 2016 (I’ve found being literal and precise with working draft titles is extremely helpful) – and scanned through it for any possible “deleted” scenes.
What I found instead was a graveyard of ideas and possibilities, many of which I had completely forgotten, and most of which had long since turned into the humus and dirt that was needed to grow the story. Very little from that first draft survived intact and whole into the final version, yet I still wouldn’t consider any of it deleted. Just morphed. Changed. Molted.
For example, early on in TPA our young & nervous cousins have an impromptu lesson in a crypt. In the final version, it’s little more than an object lesson and an attempt for Tamella – the matriarch of the family – to properly scare her pupils into respecting the spirits or jaan of anyone they murder. You see, in this world the spirits of the recently dead must be attended to, lest they get loose and start possessing people. Tamella threatens to leave one of the cousins in the crypt overnight, a night the spirits are more restless than usual, but doesn’t follow through with it.
In the very first draft, it’s a meandering two chapters in which Tamella actually locks the cousins in the crypt for an entire night.
Nobody ends up possessed, and in fact Amastan just kinda… sits and reads scrolls the entire time… but it gave me space to figure out how the crypt worked, how the water system worked, how jaan and marab (the priests who keep them quiet) worked, and how the cousins played off each other. Even though, plotwise, very little of those two chapters made it past that first draft, the ideas and worldbuilding I wrote there can be found embedded throughout the final version.
So I don’t know if I’d call any of it deleted so much as… thoroughly composted.