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Swoon Authors Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas: Deleted Scenes and Stranded Darlings

Hello Swooners!

A long long time ago, we wrote a blog post about killing off all our darlings. We tried to sound ruthless and professional and writerly and efficient. But well, we have something to tell you. To confess, rather.

We, uh… We don’t actually kill our darlings. It’s more like we put-our-darlings-on-a-remote-desert-island-where-no-one-can-find-them-but-we-memorize-the-coordinates-just-in-case. And we’ve found that we often fly back and forth over the island to see if we can scoop up a darling or two, to be easily inserted into a new scene where they serve a much better purpose.

Even in those cases where the story’s gone in a completely different direction and some of those darlings have been stranded for years without hope of rescue… we still don’t seem to have the stomach to say goodbye to them for good. We’re weak. We’re sentimental. We know. Which is why we are shamelessly using our blog post here to give them one last hurrah.

May we present, some of our favorite stranded darlings from These Vicious Masks and These Ruthless Deeds!

Anti-Sense and Sensibility

In an early draft of These Vicious Masks, we spent a lot more time in the Bramhurst countryside hinting at Sebastian Braddock’s weirdness. In this scene, Evelyn’s sister, Rose, twists her ankle near Sebastian’s house and he comes dramatically to the… not rescue.

I set her back down on the grass. Walking would not work, but what other option did we have? A wet drop splashed on my head and I glanced up at the storm clouds. The rain had no patience or courtesy to wait a few minutes more.

A low distant rumble sounded and it seemed like the horrible storm was starting when suddenly, a horse peeked over a nearby ridge just twenty yards away and its galloping came to a sudden stop. I wiped the raindrops from my eyes and brushed away my wild hair to get a clear look at the rider. At the top of the hill, Mr. Braddock stared at us with a look of astonishment that nearly matched our own.

“Is that…?” Rose barely asked. I nodded my head. For the moment, I ignored all my feelings about the man and waved to him.

“Mr. Braddock! Could you assist us? My sister has injured her leg and cannot walk!” I yelled.

He stared at us for what seemed like years, his jaw slightly lowered, his face in extreme contemplation. Was he going to help us? Was he planning to even move?

No, he wasn’t. He had no reaction. I thought the vicious wind might have eaten up my call, so I repeated the request even louder to confirm he heard. He sat like a statue for another moment before he finally dismounted the horse and started to lead it over.

When he was ten yards away, he dropped the reins, gestured to the horse and sprinted away in the direction of Feydon Hall without a single word. Good god. Of course, the man would. He could not simply assist two people without such deliberately strange behavior. Rose and I remained under the tree, disbelieving it for a moment. Rose called out again. “Mr. Braddock!”

He continued his sprint without a second glance. “What in the world is he doing?” Rose asked.

“Trying to act like some mysterious fool, I believe.”

A slightly different disguise

In Chapter 19 of These Vicious Masks, Evelyn goes to Camille and gets disguised as a random man so she could investigate a lead at a public house (which leads to her running into Sebastian’s informants, Arthur and William). Swooners who read our manuscript back when it was on the site might remember things a little differently.

We very much have a soft spot for this earlier version because we wanted to take the "disguised as a boy" trope one step further. So when Evelyn gets really annoyed at Sebastian for keeping Rose-related investigation information away from her, she goes to Camille and asks to be disguised... as Sebastian himself:

An hour later, I was standing in front of a mirror, astonished by the sight.

Good god, how did he keep up this scowling for so long? Exhausted, I gave up, and let my face relax as I admired Camille’s work in the mirror. She had really done a splendid job and it wasn’t simply just good make-up and a hair-shortening trick—she had molded and altered my face into a near-perfect replica of Mr. Braddock’s. She had even used a combination of her powers and padded clothing to make my shoulders look broader and my body somehow intimidating. The only thing missing was the brooding, but I had to admit, he was rather handsome with my more pleasant look on his face.

When I was dropped off in front of the establishment, I looked around, muttering to myself repeatedly. “I am Sebastian Braddock. I have been this way every day of my life. I look grumpy.”

And then, at the public house, still disguised as Sebastian, Evelyn runs into Mr. Kent.

“Mr. Braddock,” he said with a smirk. “What a coincidence.”

“Yes,” I mumbled, afraid to meet his eye. “Well, good day.”

I attempted to nudge by him, but he only shifted to block me. “Just a moment, please. I wished to speak with you for a moment.

“I really must be going.”

“I assure you, this will only take a moment.” He grabbed the crook of my arm and I had to withhold a yelp as he propelled me to a corner of the room and stood intimidatingly close. He may not be the tallest man but I hadn’t realized quite how strong he might be. The dandyish suits belied a rather broad-shouldered man, and not one I wished to cross.  

“Let’s have a little chat about Miss Wyndham. I know you took her to the blasted Argyll Rooms and I saw how uncomfortable she was with you last night. I assure you, sir,” he said, sneering, “if you dishonor her in any way, I am prepared to call you out.”

I gaped at him, both at the idea of a duel and his indignation.

“Are you putting her in danger?” he continued.

“No, I don’t think so…” The words flew from my mouth unbidden.

“And your intentions, are they honest?”

“I– yes, I don’t know.”

He curled his lip contemptuously. “Consider this a warning. If I hear anything else suggesting her reputation is at stake, or that she is in any way dissatisfied with your associations, it’s perfectly within my means to end you.”

His eyes flashed and my heart, if not quite pounded, then certainly sped up for a moment.

“Excuse me,” I gasped, and this time, he stepped to the side, allowing me space. I burst out of the dank building and into the sun without a single glance back. I haphazardly hailed a cab and jumped in, mindlessly calling out Camille’s address.

What could Mr. Kent possibly be playing at now? After propositioning me—at a brothel, for heavens-sake, he’s trying to play the honorable one? Did he actually just ask “Mr. Braddock” his intentions?

Excuse Us, Dead Body Coming Through

[Warning: Possible spoilers for These Ruthless Deeds here!]

In These Ruthless Deeds, the climactic ball changed quite a lot. Every time we turned in a draft, these chapters were almost entirely rewritten. At one point, our heroes tried to deal with the bodyguards first, accidentally killed one and had to hide a dead body from unsuspecting party guests. This was rightfully changed.

“Mr. Kent, can you help me carry this over to the parlor?”

“Someone is most definitely going to see us.”

“Then what do you suggest we do? Leave him here and hope everyone will step over it and politely ignore it?”

"That sounds safer than carrying it across that hall."

“Here you are,” Laura’s voice slipped pleasantly into the argument.

We both turned to find her holding velvet drapery that she seemed to have just pulled down from an obliging wall.

And it wasn’t a moment too soon. As we covered the tangle of limbs, a group of art-appreciating guests appeared on the balcony and, of course, one nosy gentleman made his way over, fascinated by the mysteriously covered object.

“It’s an unfinished sculpture,” Mr. Kent told him. “It will soon be on display at the Royal Academy in the summer, but for now, no one must see it.”

“Ah, of course. I will be the beacon of secrecy,” the man said. “That is what my friends call me, in fact.”

“I don’t know if that makes much sense, a beacon is meant to–“

“Mr. Kent, he is a beacon of secrecy, let him carry on as such, as will we,” I said, hoping to get rid of him, and picking up the body.

“Oh well, he has a point," the man said. "I never mentioned—my name is James Beacon, which is why it makes sense. Oh– no allow me, you mustn’t deal with carrying this.” He forced me aside and grabbed the feet through the thick fabric.

He paused.

“Heavens, this feels remarkably life-like.”

Wildly Unnecessary Shirt-Ripping

In our earlier versions of These Ruthless Deeds, Miss Fei Chen wasn’t an established member of the Society, but rather the first powered person Evelyn is sent on a mission to recruit. As a result, she didn’t quite have the dark history she has with the Society in our final version, nor did she have the same control over her power. So what do you do when you introduce a character with an ability to break anything she looks at? Exactly.

Rest in peace gratuitously long and overly descriptive shirt-ripping scene. You will be missed.

Miss Chen nodded firmly and stepped back. She looked between all of us before settling on Sebastian. Suddenly, a loud rip broke the silence. Buttons flew into the air and his perfectly starched white shirt was rent in two, right down the center, revealing his well-muscled torso to the air and all our eyes. He and I both gasped as one before he grasped the two edges, trying to pull them together. Blood pricked at my skin, setting me aflame in the freezing air, almost as though I was touching Sebastian with both our powers turned up.

Miss Chen gave us a cheeky little grin. “Oops.”

So we’d like to amend our previous declarations about killing and sacrificing your darlings at the editing altar. That might have been… a little too much. If you’re having trouble doing something as definite and final as that, maybe think of it in a slightly more humane way, like stranding them on an island. Stories can change so much from draft to draft and you’ll often be able to find a way to reintegrate them. These Ruthless Deeds is full of lines and moments that were conceived for one chapter, cut out and then brought back into a more fitting scene.

Other times though, you’ll eventually realize that the darlings are probably better off not being rescued for the story. But by that point, it won’t hurt so much because you’ll have put some time and distance between you and them. And while it’s sad to leave them, hey, you can always put them in a blog post like this one we got to share with you today.

Now we asked this in our last post on this topic, but we always love hearing your answers: what’s a favorite dead/stranded darling in your own work?

Author spotlight

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

Tarun and Kelly met in a freshman year writing class at NYU and started writing These Vicious Masks a few …

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