I’m not a fan of deleted scenes, or “unrated” cuts of films. Both in movies and in books, being able to cut away the chaff is a necessary skill, one that is an art-form in its own right. Most of the “outrageous” scenes are not more raunchy or more interesting, they are just different, and they were cut for a reason.
But I do like side stories. Animated films do this a lot. You’ll watch a main film, but there will also be a short with the characters from the film in a completely different circumstance. Over the Hedge has a particularly funny short where a family of porcupines play with a boomerang.
What’s the writing equivalent to this? The short story.
Recently I did a scene piece for the blog called “Dust” which features a character in an upcoming (maybe 2 years?) novel of mine. This little story takes place many years before the narrative of my main story, but provides an additional insight on some of the origins and feelings of one of the central characters.
This is something that short pieces can do that novels cannot. The short story allows us to experiment, to cut snippets in time rather than proceed down a linear progression. Taken as a whole we can sometimes get an even more complete glimpse at our character. If nothing else we gain some new insight on how they react in a new situation, and that can always inform us in drafting or perfecting our novel.
Try this for a writing exercise. Take two characters from your novel and put them in a completely different situation. Maybe if they’re in an action book, have them casually sharing a coffee or walking through the park. Maybe if your book is a romantic one throw them in the middle of some gun play. Or explore a moment before they even met each other, a moment where they almost but did not quite meet, and explore how things would be different if they had met at that moment.
I’m sure most who are married have thought about whether we would have liked our spouse (and vice versa) if we had met them at a different moment in our lives. For your characters the timing of the moment they come into contact is just as important as it is in real life, and exploring alternative meetings can lead to new interactions.
The point is, side stories give us a chance to get outside our narrative. Scenes that you cut provide insight as well, but in the end they are often strides along the same path as the rest of a novel. Short pieces outside the framework of the novel, or even the novel’s universe, can allow characters to shine in a whole new way.