This week's Refresher Friday takes a heavily updated look at killing your darlings. Enjoy!
It's a sad truth that when revising, our favorite lines usually end up being the ones we have to cut. Lines we slaved over, polished to a bright shine. The ones that always get a laugh or bring a tear to readers' eyes. It kills us to cut them, but sometimes, we really do have to hurt the ones we love.
It's painful to have to cut a line we worked hard on, but a novel is more than just the words on a page--it's how those words flow and how they lead the reader through the story. If that journey is bumpy and teeth-rattling, no one is going to make it to the end.
When you run across a line or even a scene you love, but your instinct is telling you is might not belong, ask this all-important question:
Does it serve the story?
Anything that doesn't serve the story has to go, no matter how much you love it. The more you love it, the more likely you'll bend over backward to keep it, and that you might force the plot to go where it doesn't want to go.
Look at the lines that lead up to that darling:
Are you angling the entire scene so this line can take center stage? If your instincts are telling you edit a scene or paragraph a certain way, but doing so would kill a great line that's coming up, you could be forcing the text to show the wrong thing. The point of a scene isn't to show a great line, it's to advance the story.
Are you reworking the scene so you can end it on this line? While this can work, it can also encourage you to write a bunch of fluff to fill out a chapter. Tread carefully and make sure it is the perfect place to end that scene and not a good line that's waylaying the plot.
Does the line work in context of the scene or does it read like an inserted joke? Some jokes are funny only to the person telling it. If a line has meaning for you, but no one else is going to get it, and it feels out of place in a scene, it probably needs to go.
(Here's more on ways to save great scenes you love)
Individual lines aren't the only darlings to might fall victim to the red pen. Favorite scenes and even chapters could need pruning.
I wrote a scene in an early draft of my novel, Darkfall. It was full of action, humor, fun characterization, but I had a feeling it was bogging down the story and the entire book would be better if I got rid of it. I left it in anyway, because I loved it. Sure enough, when I got my editorial notes back, my editor questioned if we needed that scene at all, especially because it forced the plot into several chapters that took the story off on a tangent. And that was the real danger, because those chapters weren't serving the story at all.
I hated to do it, but she was right--the scenes hurt the novel. I gritted my teeth, said goodbye, and cut that scene and all those extra chapters.
(Here's more on finding and fixing bad lines in dead scenes)
If you find yourself writing extra scenes or events to make a favorite line or scene work, that's a red flag that you need to cut it.
"I can keep it if I do this..." is a warning. In rare instances you can find a way to make a favorite line or scene work, but more often it's the start of a convoluted plot that twists the story into knots just so you can keep that scene or line. Look closely at the scenes that are there to support the scene you love and determine:
- Do they do anything to move the whole story along or just serve that one scene?
- Do they connect to the overall plot?
- Do they raise the stakes or reveal new information? (This is a biggie, as darling scenes often do nothing to raise the stakes or reveal anything new for the reader. It's just more of the same, frequently action for the sake of action)
- If these scenes didn't happen, would anyone but you notice?
What darlings have you had to kill? Were you able to do it?
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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