This week’s Debutante Ball topic is dedicated to deleted scenes. We all have them. It’s an inevitable part of the editing process. There’s even a tried-and-true writing adage about it: kill your darlings. Many, many darlings were ruthlessly murdered throughout the drafting process of THE FROZEN CROWN.
At the time it was painful, culling these scenes from my still-maturing manuscript. We all have ideas of what our books are, but the creatures they are in our minds rarely matches up to what’s actually on the page. That’s what makes critique partners and eagle-eyed editors so invaluable.
The funny thing is, that for as difficult as cutting these scenes was in the moment, I’m hard-pressed to actually recall any of them. I’m sure there are a ton from the early days, when I thought that my main character’s youth meant that I was telling a young adult story, rather than a tale of a grown woman struggling to cope with the responsibility she carries for the people she left behind.
There is one scene I do remember from the editing process that—while wasn’t deleted in its entire—was changed drastically. In THE FROZEN CROWN, our heroine, Askia, makes many enemies in the court of Vishir, where she has fled to beg its emperor for aid. But as vicious as her enemies are, her allies are just as passionate, and among their number is one young man who is particularly ardent in his defense of Askia.
Ava Reid, author of the forthcoming THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN (a truly amazing novel, seriously, preorder it now) described this character as a total himbo. The description still makes me laugh, because it is so apt. He’s the kind of good-looking, charming, lay-about sort of guy who has never really had to, you know, work for anything. Meeting Askia and taking up her cause gives him a sense of purpose that he’s never had before, so it seemed natural to me that he should develop feelings for her.
Askia, on the other hand???
Not so much. Sure, she likes him and is forever grateful for his support. But in her mind, he’s been completely friend-zoned. Sensing that she’s just not that into him and is in fact courting someone VERY close to him, the himbo-who-shall-not-be-named makes some very questionable decisions in the name of helping Askia. And when that doesn’t work, he takes a shot and makes a move on her. One that she simply can’t reciprocate.
The scene still exists in the book, but when I first submitted it, my editor at Voyager, David Pomerico, threw a flag on the play. Not because he didn’t think the sequence of events was believable, but Askia’s reaction to them certainly was. Because my stalwart and battle-tested hero didn’t put this character in his place. She made excuses for him. She gave him miles and miles of leeway. She felt sorry that she didn’t have feelings for him. She felt guilty.
And she didn’t need to feel that way. She shouldn’t feel that way.
The comments stopped me in my tracks.
It never once occurred to me that Askia shouldn’t feel bad about not liking this dude—which rightly says more about me than it does my made-up character. Hell, I could probably write a whole other article about how much of a trap the idea of ‘midwestern niceness’ is, particularly for women. Shit, I even dated (briefly) a boy I didn’t have romantic feelings for, because we were friends first and I felt guilty for not really wanting more.
It was revelatory—not only for me—but for the whole damned story. Simply by changing Askia’s response to that character reshaped the entire third act of THE FROZEN CROWN. And the best part was, the changes I made, brought Askia closer to the woman I always imagined her to be.
Edits can be painful. Part of you will always want to resist them. But when you have great people behind you, the pain can be worth it.
Kill your darlings, they say? Well, sometimes your darlings have it coming.