Two years ago (it’s been two years? Wow) I wrote up a piece about my personal cutting-room floor: some of the concepts that didn’t quite make it to the printed page, cut somewhere between outlining and the final draft. With Right to the Kill out in the wild (and it sounds like a lot of you are enjoying it!), I thought it might be fun to take another look at more ideas that never saw the light of day.
1. Charlie McCabe might have been Daniel Faust’s Ex-Girlfriend.
When I started working on The Loot, I considered a fun little tie-in to my other books. The key: Roxy, the ex-girlfriend who Daniel is getting over (with the help of his friend Jack Daniels) way back in his first adventure. Roxy has never made an appearance in the Faust books — not counting the time Naavarasi briefly impersonated her and got a taste of Caitlin’s backhand — and it’s implied that she never knew about Faust’s sorcerous side, so it was a natural fit.
What didn’t fit, however, was the timeline. The Loot’s heroine had to have been in the service for years, learning her lethal trade in Afghanistan, and the breakup was relatively recent, so it just didn’t work. In retrospect, I’m glad it panned out the way it did, because a major plot point in the upcoming novel The Locust Job is all about Daniel’s ex-lovers…
2. The Wisdom’s Grave trilogy was going to involve a team-up between Bobby Diehl and the Enemy.
My original concept for the Wisdom’s Grave trilogy was to have everyone — and I mean everyone — from every book I’ve written to date make at least a cameo appearance. That idea was pitched out as early as the initial plotting: it was more stunt than story, and readers want good stories above all. So I pared down the cast to the people who really needed to be in it. Of course, Daniel Faust and Harmony Black were on the dance card, and I wanted to mark the occasion with their long-overdue reunion.
To that end, bringing each of their main nemeses on the page — Bobby, for Harmony, and the Enemy, for Faust — felt like a natural choice. The problem, as I quickly discovered, was twofold: for one, Wisdom’s Grave is Nessa and Marie’s story at the core, and having two big bads on the page (neither of whom have any particular reason to be interested in the Witch and her Knight) drew focus away from the themes I was going for.
Secondly, it offered a premise with no resolution. I try very hard to keep my various series as self-contained as I can despite being in a shared world, because I know some readers prefer one or another and don’t read everything I write. If I actually killed off the Enemy or Bobby outside a main-series novel, I can imagine the feedback would be…not kind. And I’d deserve it. In the end, after workshopping it a bunch of different ways, I decided the trilogy would be best with both players on the sidelines.
3. Ghosts of Gotham had a subplot about Nikola Tesla.
Without going too far into spoiler territory for those who haven’t read it yet, a key plot element in Ghosts of Gotham are the tiny techno-magical devices called “dead-catchers.” In the published book, they’re the invention (with help from his special investor) of a murderous, renegade witch; in the first draft, though, he had a little help from a lost schematic penned by none other than Nikola Tesla.
Tesla died in New York, in his suite at the New Yorker Hotel, and an extensive subplot found Lionel probing some ghostly goings-on there. Over 10,000 words were written, four chapters’ worth all focused on this one particular plot thread. And then I woke up one morning, read back over my draft while brewing my morning coffee, and said, “…this just isn’t working.”
So many times, in writing, something that seems like a good idea in the outline simply doesn’t work on the page. Even good ideas and fun scenes need to meet the editor’s ax if they throw off the flow of the overall story, and that was exactly the problem. There wasn’t anything wrong with the chapters, but they pulled the tale off-track and in the wrong direction, and wouldn’t have added anything to Lionel and Maddie’s personal journeys. So, with a heavy heart, I slashed the draft.
Of course, there’s always the sequel.
4. The fourth Faust novel was completely tossed out a few days after I started writing it. Completely.
“Multiple discovery” is the phenomenon when scientific innovations are made by researchers working completely alone. It’s as if they stumble upon the same idea at the exact same time, and the arts are no different. Most of us have seen movies or read books that seem oddly similar, echoing plot beats or characters, despite being released almost side by side.
This is nowhere near as mystical as it might seem, at least in the arts department. Ideas are everywhere, floating and free, and everything’s been done. You can come up with the most original-sounding concept and I guarantee that someone, somewhere, has already put their spin on it. If nobody else, the Simpsons have done it at least once.
And then there’s times when multiple discovery just gets weird. Like a few years back, when I was drafting what would become the fourth Daniel Faust novel, A Plain-Dealing Villain. The first Faust trilogy was over, I was preparing a brand-new story arc, and I thought I’d come up with a winner of a concept. It involved Faust investigating an elaborate con carried out via magical manipulation and mind control. The trail would have led him to a trio of mythical sirens, castaways from a parallel world who were posing as a music group; Faust had to stop them before they used their powers to carry out a mass brainwashing at an upcoming concert.
Fast forward to the first week of writing. The first chapter was done, everything was flowing, felt great. Then I got a phone call from a friend who I’d been bouncing my ideas off of. It went something like this:
“Uh, you have Netflix, right?” she said.
“Have you watched Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks?”
“Nooo,” I said, feeling suspicious now. “Why?”
“You should watch it.”
Cute cartoon. Catchy songs. It’s about these three mythical sirens, castaways from a parallel world who pose as a music group, planning to use their powers to carry out a mass brainwashing at a—
Dear reader, you could hear my cry of “Are you freaking kidding me right now?!” from three states away. Needless to say, the entire outline went in the circular file. There was absolutely no way I could do the story now, not without people assuming I stole it from My Little freakin’ Pony.
(Then there was the time I was hip-deep in outlining a story involving Delphine LaLaurie, the same year that American Horror Story: Coven debuted. At least that one didn’t follow the same actual plot, and I still plan on writing that monster someday.)
And that’s about it for another installment of the Cutting-Room Floor! I should get back to work, and see how much of today’s outline ends up on the final page.