The edict came down. It was as acute as a blow to the stomach, and I was winded.
After the comprehensive edit Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up had just undergone, the final product produced had increased fluidity, a more clearly defined setting, infinitely more substantive main characters, and, overall, a stronger, clearer focus.
What more could there be to do?
Cut out the main character who, since its inception, has been the personification of goodness and a foil to all the other grossly imperfect characters. Say it ain’t so. Alas, it is.
And it’s necessary. With the progression of the plot and the reinforcing of certain characters, the angelic figure of Sam no longer seems necessary when another character holds the same function in the arc of the story.
But she’s so good, so crucial in contrasting the others; at the same time, she is another reminder that no matter how seemingly perfect she appears from the outset, she, like the rest of her peers at the fictional Eastern Long Island prep school Balaam Academy, holds a secret. And her revelation in the last chapter destroys the final facades of their childhoods her friends have hid behind throughout the entire novel. Ironically, in light of this blog, the character is a cutter, a fictional representation only emboldened after I read Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (which, yes, is exponentially better than Gone Girl).
What about her function throughout the rest of the story, being that you introduce her as a secondary main character in Chapter 9? You already have a set of main characters who work well in the construct of the story; why mess around with that? If she’s the cog you think she is, why not introduce her in Chapter 1?
Think about how the story itself has progressed; it’s no longer about the protagonist’s fruitless struggle against growing up. Being that he’s so insightful and has made certain decisions that postulate him exclusively as a teenager with overly adult conceptions, Sam does not have the same meaning she used to have. She’s as inert as the knowledge teachers try to convince you, you NEED to know in school when, in reality, there’s no good in memorizing a list of prepositions unless you actually know what a preposition is and how to use it in a sentence.
As my stubbornness subsides, I realize my reader is right, I begin to come to grips with the reality: She must go for the betterment of the project.
Sometimes in writing, less is more. Everyone wants to create authentic characters and settings that transport the reader into the action, but too much of that can become a detriment (much in the same way over-seasoning a good cut of meat can).
So, I was sitting there taking the advice on the chin, forcing myself to accept it as true, and, in the same instance, with my time dwindling quicker than Back to the Future and my need to get a final edit sent out to agents more pressing than ever before with my imminent wedding, I felt like I had wasted so much time and effort on something that’s essentially trash. How inefficient could I be? No wonder why I’m a starving artist.
Then, I remind myself what I always remind my students: Sometimes, you have to write so much material that ultimately doesn’t make the cut in order to find the pages, paragraphs, sentences, or even words that do. It’s part of the process, the writing process that so few are willing to engage because the hard work does not necessarily come in composing, but rather in the massaging, reworking, and cutting that is editing.
In order to find the stuff that works, you first have to find what doesn’t. Addition by subtraction at its finest.
But always hold onto the discarded pieces, for, while their profundity might not reveal themselves in the immediate, you never do know when you’ll need a pristine figure to contrast some of the riffraff.
So, from Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up, here is Sam, whose
childish face looks even meeker juxtaposed against our reality-hardened exteriors, like a teenager in an old man bar. It’s probably the first time she’s taken a shot in any place besides church.
She’s comfortable with us, though, more comfortable than she’d ever been with the Cunninghams or Dunlaps. Rolling up her sleeves, she forgets about her secret or maybe doesn’t care anymore and reveals the depth of her depression: slit after slit after slit ran up her arm like veins. While they look like shallow, fresh, deep, and decrepit hieroglyphics, everyone can read them.
It isn’t fair. Sam’s perfection personified – the subtly stunning, wholly respectable, genuinely sweet girl who doesn’t lose herself in the crowd, the girl who others want to be like, the girl who has it all. And she does have it all. But nobody’s perfect, not even Sam, and Marie’s struggling with that probably because she believes in her, that she’s a reason to hope, that we aren’t all lost causes who’ve given ourselves away for the high school experience.
Sam, the underclassman. Sam, the beauty. Sam, the brain. Sam, the runner. Sam, the cutter. In between those bloodlines that mark her arm like loose leaf are the tales we aren’t brave enough to tell. But she is.
There’s pages and pages and pages more of Sam. Don’t fret, though. All the work wasn’t for naught; she’s going to occupy the same role enveloped by a bunch of dregs in the gritty suspense novel I’ll be working on after my honeymoon, The Heroin Times.