When writing ‘The Death of a Smoker’ I was, more or less flying by the seat of my pants. The plot developed as I was writing rather than being sketched out in advance. Whether it was trying to build a framework inside which the plot could flourish, or trying to build a realistic picture of the environment in which the characters operated, it was all too easy to invent characters who did not contribute to the plot.
Looking back there were two types of character who tended to get eliminated, assassinated if you like, as the manuscript was refined. The obvious type is the character in search of a meaning. Someone who features in the early manuscripts but doesn’t make it all the way through to the final version. The second type is less obvious, the character in search of a plot. These are people you create in your mind but can find no place at all to fit them into the novel.
With regards to characters in search of a meaning, I suspect that I am not the first author to succumb to the temptation to stuff my novel with superfluous people. It was also all to easy to over describe the back story of every character.
In ‘The Death of a Smoker’ the small Cambridge company, whose activities form the hook on which the plot hangs, has only seven employees. All of whom are potential suspects and hence there was a temptation to describe them all in detail. With each successive revision the back stories were reduced or eliminated, and, in some cases the character, too, was deleted. One notable character who was assassinated is Stuart Hinderwell. Not literally assassinated in the story, but simply removed from the manuscript. A truculent and unstable scientist who bears a number of grudges, Hinderwell has all the attributes of a good suspect. The problem was he contributed nothing to the plot, he was, I came to realise, simply a distraction. With each successive revision he diminished in character, disappearing entirely in revision six. More an erosion than an assassination, if the truth be told.
As regards characters in search of a plot, I do have one character who found no place in either ‘The Death of a Smoker’ or its forthcoming sequel ‘Jack in the Box’, and, hence, has yet to make an appearance. He is Hank, a bombastic but high ranking US Military Attaché at the London embassy. In various guises he was been either ‘Hank the Yank’ or ‘Hank the Tank’. As a former tank commander his first response to any kind of trouble that threatens American interests is ‘send in the tanks’, regardless of any logistical realities.
Hank is also distinguished by his strong accent. His pronunciation of Mossad, sounds very much like ‘Mow sard’, with a long drawled second syllable. In a scene that I have never been able to place in any plot, he finds himself at a reception talking the British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Concerned about the UK’s response to Israeli intelligence operations he enquires after her views on Mossad. To which the Honourable Lady replies in her own inimitable voice, ‘Well I do like his Cosi fan tutte’