Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Flipping the Writing Coin: Send Your Darlings to the Chopping Block

“Kill your darlings.”

We hear this advice throughout our writing careers. But it’s more than an adage bordering on the cliché. It’s a technique we need to learn if we’re to improve our manuscripts.

Don’t believe you need to edit your stories? Don’t delude yourself. Take a look at your work-in-progress. Are there scenes that bog the story down and add nothing to the plot? Get rid of them. Yes, I realize you’ve written some lovely prose and you hate to deprive your readers. Guess what? They’re not going to care how wonderful your writing is if they’re jerked out of the story.
Dialogue retelling exposition? Nothing more than idle chit chat? You know what to do. Action not moving the scene along? Let it go.

Case in point. I recently edited the first three chapters of Serpent Fire, the second book in my Angels of Death series. The first chapter had been revised a few times so it’s almost ready for critiques. But chapters two and three? Ha! Whole pages were cut. Dialogue was rewritten and at least three scenes were tossed. (Not that they won’t be used in another story. Remember, you’re only cutting what doesn’t work for this particular manuscript. The scenes left on the cutting-room floor may be salvageable in another project.)

The way I see it, chapters two and three will be combined. Brutal? Sure. Necessary? Hell, yeah.

Yes, it’s painful to chop up your hard work. Trust me, I’ve been there. But I never fall in love with my writing so much I can’t look at it with a critical eye.

I don’t just kill my darlings. I fold, spindle, mangle, and mutilate them.  

Be honest about the quality of your writing. Because if you aren’t, your critique partner or editor will be. Above all, don’t give up!     

1 comment:

Nerine Dorman said...

I must warn you, I have a few extra scalpels in my bag since I worked on your last novel. **grins**