In editing a manuscript through draft after draft after draft, the story evolves. As in any evolutionary process, unnecessary characters and subplots can hang around the edges of the plot long after they are needed. When you look in the mirror, you don’t see that extra piece of cartilage on your ear. To belabor this metaphor, you don’t see these characters anymore when you look at the story. They are just part of your face.
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In the novel I am currently editing, there are several references to a character named Raj. He was the main character’s ex-boyfriend/roommate. The intention behind Raj’s existence in the novel was to show how Lara had been repeatedly betrayed and abandoned by the people who were supposed to love her. I had pages and pages of backstory on their relationship, why he left, and her culpability in that. Then, somewhere between draft 5 and 9, I decided Lara needed to take a more active role in the events of her life. I didn’t need Raj anymore. He was still cluttering up Chapter 2 and making my writing buddies ask awkward questions about their relationship. He has been surgically removed. As Pete Denton would say – Muhahahaha.
Do you have characters that over staying their welcome? Whole scenes? Yikes!