Following on from my earlier thought on the sudden injection of Catherine Tate into Dr Who for a full series, I've been thinking about the character who sort of disappeared to make way for her. It must be odd, that; creating a character, getting to know it, maybe imagining all the adventures it might have, and then, just like that, it's gone. (Is it just me or did I fit about a year's worth of commas in that sentence?)
It got me thinking about those characters of mine who end up disappearing from the final drafts of things, or who change so much they're unrecognisable. Between the two versions of the novel I finished the first couple of drafts on recently, I changed perhaps three major characters so much that they might as well not exist. One of them, a sort of worldly wize monster hunting chap, disappeared completely. Another went from being the central character to a supporting role. A third remained similar only in the broadest description, and now I'm wondering if I can use the original character somewhere else in the future.
I tend not to do it so much with short stories, perhaps because there's less of a temptation to put in extra characters just to see what will happen, or to run a sub-plot. There's rarely time for sub-plot. Even so, in one story recently I took out the father of a couple of the characters, or at least made it clear he was dead, since the memory of him was probably more effective. In another, I reduced a potential cast of about five to just three, simply to tighten things up as much as possible.
There's invariably a temptation to see if it's possible to write something specifically for them, but usually that doesn't work. They're mostly minor characters, and they can't sustain a story on their own. Even so, I find myself keeping an eye out for moments that might possibly need these cast off characters, and I think on the whole they're happier for it.