Posted in writing advice

Killing Your Darlings

Every writer comes to a moment where they have to make a decision. You have been crafting this story element for what feels like days. It’s one of the best things you’ve ever written. You’re in love with every aspect of it. There is just one problem; it doesn’t fit the rest of your narrative. That’s when it is time to kill your darlings.

Killing your darlings is a common term in the writing community that refers to cutting out scenes, lines, or even whole characters in order to make the story better. It is one of the most painful moments of the editing process I have had to endure.

I recently had to cut one of my favorite scenes out of my manuscript. It told you so much about the characters and their relationship to one another. It has some of the best prose I’ve ever written, but the scene didn’t move the story forward. I fought to keep it. I moved it to different places in the story. I changed some elements to try to make it fit, but no matter how many changes I made, it just wasn’t working. So to the butcher block it went.

One of the good things about writing is that ideas do not have to be confined to their original source. That scene served no purpose in this manuscript, but it could be the glue that holds together a crucial moment in the next. The same is true for characters that you cut out. Maybe the sweet old woman isn’t needed in this story, but she could be a valued confidante in another. That’s why I keep a folder full of discarded story elements. Perhaps I can resurrect them in another project farther down the road.

Killing your darlings is painful. There is a reason you love them and want to hold them close. Just be careful that holding them near and dear to your heart doesn’t lead you to diminishing the rest of your work simply because you couldn’t let them go. Taking them out may be painful, but it will all be worth it in the end when you see the finished product shining back at you from publication.

Posted in writing advice

Surprise Emotions

Have you ever had one of those moments where you go from sitting quietly to having tears running down your face? There is no rhyme or reason for it. Just unescapable emotion welling up inside of you before you can even acknowledge it’s existence? I hate it when it happens to me. Crying is one of my least favorite things in the universe, being surprise attacked by it even more so. Having experienced one of these moments recently, I realized that there is a lot we can learn from them. Not just in our own lives, but in the lives of the characters on the pages we read.

Unexpected emotional outbursts of any kind can serve as a window into unknown pieces of our hearts. It shines a light on feelings that have either been suppressed or ignored. Maybe you didn’t even know seeing something was important to you until it happened, and you found yourself crying in relief at the sight of it. A single tear running down a character’s face can be more powerful than a Shakespearian soliloquy when deployed correctly. Let me give you an example form something I’m working on. Paige’s hand trembled as she ran her fingers across the frayed edge of the clipping. Her chest grew tighter as image after image of her father’s scrap book danced in front of her. A shuddering breath passed her lips. Closing her eyes, she imagined her father’s smiling face beaming back at her from the edge of the arena and smiled. There is a lot going on in that passage. Now imagine what it would have looked like if Paige had just started talking about the images she was seeing or what she was feeling. “I can’t believe it,” Paige said. “He kept all of these? Every last article. Every campaign. It’s all here.” She turned to her mother, a tear making its way down her face. “He really did care. Didn’t he?” The Bard I am not, but you get the point. The exact same thing is happening in both passages, but one has significantly more impact than the other. The stillness of the moment makes everything more intense. It’s in those quiet moments when we let emotions run free that we learn the most. About our stories. About our characters. But even more so, about ourselves. What events in your life have brought up these “surprise emotions”? What did they teach you?