Monday, September 21, 2009

Abandoned Love: Novel Cuts in a Deleted Scenes World

By Steve Weddle

In 1974, Bob Dylan was recording songs for BLOOD ON THE TRACKS and had to leave out some great work. One of these songs was “Up To Me,” an absolutely masterful piece of meter, lyrics, images, music and whatever the hell else makes songs great.

Oh, the Union Central is pullin' out and the orchids are in bloom,
I've only got me one good shirt left and it smells of stale perfume.
In fourteen months I've only smiled once and I didn't do it consciously,
Somebody's got to find your trail,
I guess it must be up to me.

In 1985, I hopped into my blue ‘76 Caprice Classic, headed to the Pierre Bossier Mall and bought BIOGRAPH, an album of Dylan outtakes and rarities. I don’t know what it was like when Adam first saw Eve or, as Joe Theismann might say, when Norman Einstein split the atom, but I have a pretty good idea.

These were songs I hadn’t heard before. “Up To Me” was left off BLOOD ON THE TRACKS supposedly because it was too long to fit in. Feh. Since Dylan was never the Motown hit single machine, this reason sounds to me like complete bunk.
One of the things that makes this song so great is the personal nature: “And the harmonica around my neck, I blew it for you, free./ No one else could play that tune,/ You know it was up to me.

The entire 5 LP set (kids, ask your grandparents about LPs) was amazing, full of songs or versions of songs I’d never heard. Now, of course, I have whatever Dylan songs I want, hundreds of concert bootlegs and versions of albums, such as HIGHWAY 61, that were never meant for the mass market. And this is exactly what I want from an artist.

From the time Dylan recorded “Up To Me” until the time it sold to dopes like me was more than 10 years. In the 1980s, outtakes for albums were about as popular as outtakes for novels are now. Why would you release songs that didn’t make the album? Why would you release scenes that didn’t make the novel?

In editing my book LOST AND FOUND, I made some fairly substantial cuts, backspacing characters out of existence completely. I lost a good deal of junk, but also some good stuff in there, basically because it didn’t need to be there, didn’t move the story along. So what the heck am I supposed to do with the extra stuff now? Turn those chapters into short stories? Use Chuck Thompson as a character in the next novel? The reason Chuck didn’t make the cut – or, I suppose, did make the cut – was that he was set up as a foil for the main character, a role I was able to incorporate into another character, combining some of my needs in the book. Chuck was removed because the reason for his existence was gone.

Turns out I’m not the only one who’s wondered what to do with this deleted stuff. Robert Harris posted some deletions he made for his book THE MILLION DOLLAR GIRL. I’m sure others have given this some thought—the deleted scenes you see after you’ve watched the DVD.

Is it a good idea to publish your deleted scenes? Is there a chance that doing so spoils the experience for the reader? Maybe the decision whether to publish the cuts depends on the reason for the cuts. I can’t imagine a writer prefacing the publishing of a cut scene by saying, “I cut this scene because my editor was a little squeamish about how I ran these puppies through the meat grinder. I really hate puppies and loved this graphic scene, but my editor said the book would sell better without the scene. So I cut the scene, sold a ton of books and used the extra money to buy myself a new puppy grinder.”

Sure we have reasons for making our cuts, but what do we do with the cuts that could stand alone?

When we revise, we cut away so much that doesn’t “fit.” We’ve made more than we need for this project and have to remove the excess. I know this. But there are still so many good characters, sliced through with red pens or marginalized into the boxes of Track Changes. What do we do with these stories? As someone said, “When you bite off more than you can chew you have to pay the penalty,/ Somebody's got to tell the tale,/ I guess it must be up to me.


Dave White said...

Honestly, deleted scenes or songs in movies and music don't bother me, but often times from novels they do. Usually there's not enough context to understand what was intended or it's obvious to see why it was cut. I have an opening scene from my short story "Closure" on one of my computers that will never see the light unless I find short story use for it one day. On fact, I have a ton of false starts and dumped material all over the place...

Dana King said...

Raymond Chandler (and others) cobbled together novels from short stories; why couldn't short stories come from deleted scenes? I'm not talking about adding them to the back of the book like a DVD special feature, but write them as standalone stories, changing whatever you need to so the story works better on its own, and isn't too obviously cut from a larger work. It's not like anyone but you (and maybe your agent and editor) will know, and it can be a way to get your style of writing broader exposure without a lot of additional work.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder how many of these deleted scenes in writing still exist. I just delete period. I don't do drafts that exist as early versions on my hard drive. My current version is the only one. What's on the page is all there is. My husband, who saves every word he writes, says this is wrong-and maybe it is.