#TuesdayTips Harden Your Heart and Kill Your Darlings (Part One)
Aside from a few oddballs, most writers will tell you that editing that first draft is one of the hardest - and least enjoyable - parts of writing a novel.
Aside from the obvious chore of correcting grammar gremlins and wrestling ugly sentences into shape, it's also the time to have a long, hard think about whether everything in that book deserves its place.
“Kill your darlings”, a quote often (mis?)attributed to William Faulkner, is one of the most valuable pieces of advice that more experienced writers can share. Sometimes it helps to consider another great 19th Century writer, Charles Darwin. Imagine that everything between the covers of a book is fighting for survival. Only the fittest will make the final cut. Everything has to earn its place. There are plenty of reasons that a story element might not make the final edit. Over the next few blog posts I’m going to consider a few of them.
Size matters A few weeks ago, I finished the first complete draft of what will become DCI Warren Jones 7. According to the number in the bottom left-hand corner of MS Word it weighed in at a whopping 145,000 words. That is at least 15,000 more than I want. There are plenty of well-known authors whose readers will lap up 900 pages without question (and even some genres where anything less than 750 pages is considered a pamphlet), but frankly, I'm not one of them and I dare say neither are you. I could hand it in to my editor as it is, but I know exactly what she’s going to say, so why not save us all some time and get those scissors out now?
Does it advance the story? In plot-driven genres, particularly those with an expectation of pace, it's important that the story keeps on driving forward. If a narrative element doesn't do that, then ask if it needs to stay. You don't have to cut it, but perhaps there has to be another reason for its inclusion.
Do convolutions give the reader convulsions? The contortions necessary to parse this sub-heading illustrate the point for me here. Bond movies need a couple of set piece spectaculars each film – it’s what the audience are there for, and so viewers are more forgiving of convoluted storylines that are clearly just paving the way to the big stunt. But how often have you watched another film and found yourself rolling your eyes as barely credible plot twists deliver the excuse for a multi-million-dollar car chase? Do you have to twist your story to make a key scene plausible? Obviously, that’s part of being a writer. But ask yourself if that scene is really necessary for your book. If it is, then twist away – that’s one of the best bits of writing. If the story works without it, then consider killing that darling.
Thanks for reading and come back next week for more suggestions on how to kill those darlings, or browse the archives for more tips. Please feel free to comment either here or on social media. Paul