Director’s Cuts in Fiction

Caution: Spoilers

I’ve always loved director’s cuts. I think its fascinating to explore what forced a film maker to remove content and arrive at their final prodcuct. The reasons are endless–the film was running too long, a scene or character didn’t focus group well, there was a debate between the producer and the director. Editing a novel is very similar. As a general rule, my approach in the editing process is to remove any scene or character that doesn’t ultimately serve the story’s climax. I do this as a check to constrain the length of the story and also to make sure that I don’t have extraneous material that, while interesting, doesn’t move the story forward.

The version of The Bad Shepherd that I first released in October 2016 after deciding to publish it independently was edited with a traditional publisher in mind. The edits I made (some very painful) were done to fit the story into the constraints of the traditional publishing industry. For example, a debut crime novel is expected to be between 80,000 and 90,000 words (roughly around 300-350 pages). To do that, I had to make some very difficult choices regarding what I would remove and had to make some equally difficult decisions regarding the ultimate plot and how those edits would serve that plot. The hardest for me was making the book entirely about Bo Fochs.

In the original version, the story was equally about Fochs and his partner, Mitchell Gaffney. Their arc of their relationship and the strains the case put on it was one of central themes of the book. In that version, the reader is able to find some empathy for Mitch and understand why he burned his partner the way he did. Marlon Rolles also had much more screen time and we could see just how pervasive (and truly diabolical) his operation was. But, we also saw that he was actually helping people through his foundation, so he wasn’t quite the one-sided villain that I perceive him to be in the published version. Bo and Daphne’s relationship was much longer and had greater depth, so you truly understood his reactions and felt that pain upon learning of her death. Finally, there was a member of Lorenzo Fremont’s crew that added a crucial human element to the antagonists.

So, why did I cut those things? Well, none of those elements served the ultimate end of the book, which was to force a confrontation between Bo Fochs and Marlon Rolles. After everything else was peeled away, the climactic moment is that conflict and the choice I made was if something did not explicitly serve that purpose, I had to cut it in order to meet an arbitrary word count. Ultimately, even though I decided to independently publish, I chose not to add those things back in, because I felt that my first novel needed to be a tightly plotted, fast read. But, lately, I’ve been rethinking that decision.

Recently, I’ve watched two director’s cuts that entirely change their original films. Goodfellas and Payback. If you’ve seen the originals, go watch these. Payback, in particular, is an entirely different film than the original and both director’s cuts offer (in my opinion) a more complete cinematic experience. I want to do the same with The Bad Shepherd. In the near future, probably when I begin researching and plotting the sequel, I’m going to release a director’s cut that will include many or all of the deleted arcs I described above. We’ll get a deeper connection with both the heroes and the antagonists and have a more complete experience, the way I originally envisioned the story.

I believe the book works very well right now as a lean, driving crime story but I also want an opportunity to share the book I originally conceived, which is a much different experience than the version of The Bad Shepherd on virtual shelves today. Those cuts flesh out the world of the story and while they may not explicitly serve the climactic moment, they bring a much needed depth that I think readers would appreciate.

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