Have you ever heard the phrase, “kill your darlings”? I have, and I used to resent it with every fiber of my creative being. Why would I eliminate a favorite character, scene, or line? That question is one I’ve recently had to answer.
My project for 2018 has been editing my novel, “The Four Crystals.” After making some changes to the main characters’ personalities and motivations, which strengthened the plot and intensified the conflict, I arrived at one of my favorite conversations between two characters. It no longer worked.
I tried valiantly to save the conversation, but eventually, I had to re-write it. Cutting the original version of that conversation hurt. But I was super proud of myself for putting my story’s needs before my own desires. Then I kept going.
In a travel sequence, I had an issue fester between two characters over the course of 48 hours and finally culminate in a confrontation. I had so much fun writing the sequence. When I looked over it, I realized that those scenes and even the confrontation didn’t move the plot along. I could tell my reader how long it took my party to go from point A to point B and summarize the main difficulties they faced in one paragraph. I tried to justify keeping the sequence on the grounds that it contributed to my characters’ development, but the reader already knew there was hostility between those two characters from earlier scenes. And the mini-confrontation didn’t grow the tension between them enough to justify keeping the sequence. I had to cut it, and yes, cutting it was painful.
When it comes to editing, I’ve concluded that anything that does not advance the story and/or the characters’ development should be cut. It makes the story more interesting to read.
My challenge to all of you is when you look at your own work, don’t ask yourself, “How do I feel about this character, scene, or line?” Instead, ask yourself, “What does it add to the story?” If the answer is nothing, cut it.
Happy writing, and be bold in your editing!