Kill Your Darlings

I think that I finally had my first significant experience with that.

Kurt (my main character) is involved in two different investigations. As a part of one of them, he needs to interview the leaders of two delegations. After the interview with the first delegation, he gets a tip for his other investigation and tells Sudeep (a major character with whom he’s working) that he needs to follow-up on it and she agrees. This allows him to go chase after a lead in this other investigation.

So tonight I’m reading this and I get to that part and I say to myself, “oh no she wouldn’t.” Then I immediately apply the “would he really” rule from James N. Frey’s How to Write A Damned Good Novel. Would she really accept Kurt switching gears and putting off their investigation and the answer is “No.”

“Damn,” I say and put the laptop down and pace a circle in the room. I sit back down, reread the scene, and apply the rule again. Same answer. Now I feel more confident that it’s the right answer, NO WAY would she go for it. BUT that means the entire next scene doesn’t happen next. I read that scene and double-check my outline to see if I can just punch it in later and nope, it doesn’t fit. It’s now superfluous.

Another round of pacing. The bummer is that I “like” the scene and it might even be well-written. But it doesn’t matter. Sudeep would not accept that outcome and it changes what comes next and the change means the next scene is no longer needed in the book.

1,000 words deleted.

I hated to part with them. But I knew it was the right thing to do. I suspect that qualitatively I am still nowhere near the kinds of darlings Stephen King discusses killing in On Writing, but I do think that I finally got to experience killing one of my own darlings.

Now lest you fret that this is a downer post, it is not. Two extreme positives here. First, all of that time I invested over the years reading books about writing (ahem, instead of writing) is actually paying off. Second, as much as I didn’t like cutting the scene, I do believe it improved the novel both by making the character actions more congruent and by making the book tighter and the whole point of what I’m trying to do right now is make the book tighter.


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