On Revising and Killing Those Darlings

Last week when I posted my review roundup I noted that it had been a while since I’d shared a writing post.

So here we go!

What am I even writing these days?

Well, I didn’t really talk about it here on the blog, but I wrote a whole book last year–or maybe it was late 2020 into 2021?–and then scrapped it. I had tried to write this book before I wrote My Second Impression of You, set it aside, thought I’d figured out how to make it work, finished drafting it, got feedback from a few of my trusted critique partners, and sent it to my agent. But after we talked, I agreed with her that the book still just wasn’t working.

I’ve set aside many books over the 10 years I’ve been writing seriously. Some of them are harder than others to let go. Honestly, this one wasn’t too hard to set aside, especially because I already knew the best parts of it that I wanted to pull out and use in another book. In fact, I had an idea how one piece of this manuscript would fix an issue I’d had with another shelved manuscript that my agent was intrigued enough about for me to pick up again.

So, what does this have to do with killing darlings? Sooo much.

In case you aren’t a writer and need me to explain that phrase, “darlings” are things in our books that we really love–a character, subplot, even entire chapters–that ultimately don’t serve the overall story. As a result, we need to “kill” or cut them from the book. (I wrote a whole post about killing darlings back in 2014, and what’s funny is now I don’t even remember what manuscript that post was about!)

Anyway, I’ve killed quite a few darlings as I’ve tackled this rewrite, and I do feel it’s an important distinction from calling it a revision. I started an entirely new Scrivener document, and while there are some scenes I’ve copied over to revise, I’m writing the majority of the scenes from scratch. With the distance of time, I’ve been re-plotting the main thread of the story, and that’s where I came to this specific idea of writing about killing darlings.

You see, there’s a scene in the book I’m particularly attached to. For nearly a week, I played around with the outline, trying to figure out if there’s a way it would still work with the other necessary changes I made to the plot. Ultimately my answer is: no.

But also, sort of, yes.

I can’t do this scene the way it’s been for 10 years (yes, that’s when I wrote the first version of this book, and this scene was in the original). BUT, I can still keep the concept of the scene. I just have to change the execution to fit the new plot.

Thus, I am killing that precious darling. But at the same time, I know the story will be so much stronger for the change. And you know what? If this book ends up finally being published after all this time, then I guess I’ll have a fun deleted scene to share for my behind-the-scenes features!

Speaking of which, stay tuned for my next My Second Impression of You backstage pass, coming May 20. Or, if you can’t wait, you can get a sneak peek in today’s newsletter. And you might want to, because there’s also an opportunity to win an Advance Reading Copy of the book.

Writers, what’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to cut from one of your novels?

Responses to “On Revising and Killing Those Darlings”

  1. Mark Murata

    I haven’t gotten a novel published yet, but I’m currently submitting to agents. What comes to mind isn’t so much killing off part of a story, but not even writing it. I get scenes in my mind and write towards a great scene, but it turns out to be unnecessary or would just slow the momentum. So I just speed past it.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      That’s amazing if you can figure out you don’t need it while drafting! Sometimes I do, but often it’s after I’ve already fallen in love with it. Best of luck with your querying!


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