Question of the Week: Murdering Your Darlings

22 Jan

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This week, we’re answering a question from Caitlin, who asked us: When editing, what was the most painful decision you’ve had to make regarding cutting things out (like, what was your favorite scene or character or sub-plot that you subsequently found yourself removing?) and how did you deal with it?

Great question, Caitlin!

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I think that the most painful things I ever had to cut were ‘traditional’ things; scenes or character names I’d had in there from the beginning. The hardest thing for me to learn was that you HAVE to delete something if it’s not good, even if you can’t imagine your story without that particular scene. If it’s bad, it must go.

Something I found helpful is to have multiple drafts of my story. Work in Progress 1, Work in Progress 2, etc. Then I can always go back to an earlier version if I don’t like the cuts I make. But you know what? I’ve never gone back to an earlier version. Ever. The cuts are made for a reason, even if it’s painful to lose the flack.

The Other Writer Waiting On Submissions

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What I had most difficulty cutting out was the scene where my hero, Lord Candover, got mortally wounded in a brawl. That didn’t work out, so I tried to shoot him down in a duel instead. This didn’t work either. I thought to have his ex-mistress stab him…but that ended up being too melodramatic. So I reverted back to the duel scene, trying to manipulate my story so it would allow this scene to remain. But it JUST wouldn’t fit in with the story. I tried a few other ways to mortally wound Candover… Until I finally gave into the arrogant man’s angry demand: DAMN IT WOMAN! I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO GET SHOT, STABBED, OR BEATEN!!!! I sighed in defeat. Sometimes your characters know your story best.

The Writer Who Got Two Partial Requests

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For me, the pain of taking beloved material out of QUEEN OF GLASS was like ripping off a bandaid. At one point, my manuscript was 240k words long, and I was told I needed to cut out 100k words before ANYONE–agent, editor, etc.–would even look at it. It was pretty much do-or-die, so I took a deep breath and just started cutting. It was terrifying at first, but even as I threw beloved (but pointless) scenes and characters out the window, I began seeing how–with each tossed word–my book was becoming stronger.

Cutting material will always be bittersweet for me. I still groan when I have to remove a scene that I LOVE, but I also get a total thrill knowing my book just became THAT much better by cutting it. So, if I had to pinpoint the “most painful” cut, it’d definitely be that first one, when I sliced 100k words from my manuscript in one fell swoop. There were some scenes that were harder to let go of than others, but I know it was for the best. Learning to see my writing objectively and not be afraid to make big revisions is a skill I’ve truly come to value.

The Writer Waiting on Submissions

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Remember, get your Book Trailer Contest submissions in by MIDNIGHT (Pacific Time) tonight!

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2 Responses to “Question of the Week: Murdering Your Darlings”

  1. Rowenna January 23, 2010 at 10:32 AM #

    Thanks for sharing these–I’m glad to know scene emotional attachment and editing separation anxiety don’t make mean I’m a crazy person (unless we’re all crazy people).

    Did anyone cut something, file it away, and end up using it in a different way (even in a different project) later?

    • Crissy Rose January 25, 2010 at 12:24 AM #

      Yeah that’s happened to me..

      I actually have the opposite problem though… I have a hard time coming up with significant characters and sub-plots. My stories are usually short and pretty 2D because I can only focus on one main plot and a few main characters. :[

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