In the process of writing and rewriting my latest horror/supernatural conspiracy thriller novel The Irresistible Summons I cut or rewrote a substantial amount of material from draft to draft.
The initial draft weighed in at around 109,000 words, with the final version pared down to just over 93,000. The polishing of this novel proved a particularly interesting process this time, in that whilst the mechanics of the main plot didn’t change, key scenes, subplots, and sometimes entire characters were removed. The epilogue was also entirely rewritten. Here’s a brief rundown on some of the more interesting elements of what was cut or changed (I shall skirt around spoilers).
Naomi’s ex-fiancee – During the opening act, after the disastrous prison interview but before Naomi’s visit to her parents and her brother, we are introduced to Naomi’s depressed alcoholic ex-fiancee Richard. He features in two chapters where he turns up in her flat, attempts to commit suicide, and is saved at the last moment by an apparently supernatural premonition. This spooky incident is subsequently linked to what is going on in the top secret Persephone corporation experiments. It also turns out Richard’s mother Hilary has links to the coven which comes into the story later on.
Originally I wanted the character of Richard to suggest that Naomi had a compassionate side that was drawn to “broken” people that she thought she could fix. However, this compassion was a mask for her own grief resulting from losing her teenage lover Toby, whom she couldn’t “fix”. In the end, I decided this character development was unnecessary so deleted Richard, Hilary, and the entire subplot.
Murders in Persephone – I have to skirt around spoilers a bit here, but there are certain characters that come to a sticky end that did so much earlier in the story, precipitating murder investigations that complicated the main plot. In the end, I felt the police aspect of the story cluttered the narrative, so I removed these murders, and instead restricted police involvement to the first mysterious disappearance.
The Left Luggage Official – This funny scene I was very reluctant to delete, since it was inspired by something that once happened to me in Paddington station. Naomi loses a vital piece of luggage on her return from the West Country, which is important to the plot. In the finished version of the novel, the interactions with the left luggage official are brief and to the point. However, in earlier drafts, a lengthy comic sequence ensued, in which Naomi gets into a hair-clutching, Basil Fawlty-esque argument with an imbecilic, those-are-the-rules, officious jobsworth. Although amusing, the scene belongs in a much more comedic narrative, and not in this novel.
The Dove Society – In earlier drafts, those from Persephone investigating the mysterious disappearances and apparitions have formed themselves into a secret society of sorts. They use a few peculiar “dove” gestures to greet one another, which a baffled Naomi witnesses. Eventually I decided these people didn’t need to be in a secret society. They just needed to be concerned individuals with a shared goal, and there was no need for superfluous mystery where plenty already existed.
Romantic subplot – The chemistry between Naomi and Eric was much more fully explored in the original draft, with several more conventionally romantic scenes. However, this all felt out of place, especially given Naomi’s ongoing obsession with the departed Toby. I ended up cutting these scenes, and instead having more of an undertone that Eric might be someone with whom Naomi could ultimately strike up a romantic relationship with – if she ever gets past what happened with Toby.
Return to Paranorm Productions – I need to skirt around plot details here for fear of spoilers, but after Naomi obtains footage of a certain shocking incident towards the end of the story, instead of immediately heading into the basement and forbidden levels, tunnels, etc, she returned to Paranorm Productions. Here she showed Paul (her boss) the footage, and he is understandably appalled and terrified. But Paul then receives a mysterious phone call – which Naomi overhears his side of – indicating that mysterious forces are about to come down on him like a ton of bricks and hush everything up. Before that can happen, Naomi rushes out again, returning to the Persephone building with the footage. The entire incident seemed pointless in the end, just over-egging the pudding, when really it made more sense to move directly to the finale.
The Finale – Again, I have to be careful what I reveal here, but in earlier drafts, the finale involved a great deal more detailed explanations that screamed “Look, I’ve done my research”, along with more getting lost in dark tunnels and corridors, and generally gruesome mayhem. Even full-on thrills and scares can get a bit tiresome and repetitive, plus I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader with my research credentials, so I eventually cut these chapters down a great deal.
The Epilogue – On reflection, the epilogue in earlier drafts was absurdly optimistic, and tonally felt like it belonged more in a romantic novel. For the final version, this was replaced entirely, closing on a much more melancholy note that brought the novel full circle.