Kill Your Darlings

The reigning phrase in revision is “Kill your darlings.” For origins of the phrase, click here.

The idea is that if you love what you’ve written, it’s probably self-indulgent crap.

My dilemma is that the vampire work in progress (VWIP) is now at 130k words and the reigning wisdom in publishing is that adult fantasy should be between 80 and 115k tops.

So I have 10,000 words to cut.

That’s like horror movie slasher-style editing, right? You can’t cull down paragraphs and end up 10,000 words lighter. That’s like saying to lose 10 pounds, focus on 300 calories at a time.

So how does one go about removing such large chunks when every damn word is brilliant? (wink)

I started with maps. I know, probably a little over analytical. But the maps helped me see what scenes were contributing to the story and which scenes were not. Maps can be organized by story arc, geography, chapter, or character. But this is a time travel novel, so I did it by date and location.

Sadly, all of the scenes seem to have something to contribute. (wink)

So I looked at character arcs. Each character was defined and the arc drawn and analyzed for its relevance to the overall novel. I have parallel characters because there’s a whole device about being able to see oneself. I wanted the parallels to be recognizable without being obvious. That required analysis of the decisions they make and the way they respond to the people around them.

Of course I love all these people and their stories matter to me. So another revision tool fail. In fact, I wrote MORE after this step.

Finally, I came up with the defining question. It’s the one I asked with my first novel that helped me really develop what was a skeleton text:

Whose story is this?

Knowing exactly 1) whose story this is, 2) what he/she/they are trying to accomplish, 3) the barriers that stand in their way, and 4) what they’re willing to do to overcome those barriers will answer any revision problems. Define the story.

Then, all sections should be put against this singular test: does this scene contribute to the story? How? Make a list of the contributions and you may find you have duplicates.

For example, I’m building friendship between two characters in the same way in two different places. Are both sections needed? If you’re really tough, like I can be, I make myself articulate exactly how the scene contributes.

Another tip, I used the navigate pane function in Word to easily skip from section to section and remove and re-position whole chunks of the story.

I don’t always kill my darlings (as my blogs will prove) but when I do, I have a method. This is not reckless horror movie slasher shit. It’s actual work. The kind real writers do.

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