Revision: Killing Those Darlings

If you’ve been following my journey through revisions for my work-in-progress, you may remember that in my last round of revisions I was still getting rid of a number of dangling threads from an early plot thread I’d eliminated. When I received comments back from this round of readers, I was pleased to discover that–finally!–I didn’t have any of those. I had other issues, but only one small thing that could really be connected to that lingering thread. Whew! *wipes forehead*

But as I read through the comments, I came to the conclusion that I had to cut a couple of early chapters, and one of them really hurt. For years I’ve heard writers talk about “killing their darlings.” I sort of understood what they were talking about. There were lines I really liked that I’d had to take out of manuscripts, even some scenes I’d cut that I hated to see go. But it really rang true to me this time. You see, I didn’t just like this scene–I loved it. It was fun, it had a number of great lines in it that readers had commented “LOL,” and there were parts of it that I had a personal connection to.

However, even while I had some comments within the scene about the funny bits, I also received overall comments during this chapter and couple of chapters surrounding it, saying, “I’m starting to skim,” or, “we need to get to point x sooner.” And I have to confess that my current readers weren’t the only ones to say this. While no one said I had to cut this scene in particular, as I stepped back from the story as a whole, I realized that I was stubbornly holding onto that scene for the wrong reasons. The things I loved about it–the funny lines, the interaction between the main character and her best friend, the pop culture references–were the same things that were slowing down the pacing and tension. This scene had become a darling for me, and I would have to kill it.

Oh, it hurt to move that scene from the Manuscript folder to my Deleted Scenes folder in Scrivener. But then, an interesting thing happened. I opened the scene up in a QuickReference panel (if you don’t use Scrivener, this is like a pop-up window) to scan for any information that was referenced later in the story so I could drop it in where appropriate. And you know what? Out of a 2,000-word scene, I could sum up the necessary information in maybe 200 words scattered throughout a few subsequent scenes without causing any confusion.

And that is why we must be prepared to kill our darlings. If they’re only there for us–not to serve the story–they shouldn’t be there at all.

And once again, I am reminded of the importance of patience. It’s the most important lesson I’ve learned in three years of querying, and it’s served me well with this manuscript. A year ago, I have a feeling I would have started querying this MS too early–like I did the others–and figured out I needed to make this change after I’d already burned through half of my agent list. Thankfully I’ve killed this darling before she caused unnecessary grief :).

What darlings have you had to kill? Did you immediately see the benefits?


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