Friday, August 19, 2011

Top 10 Things I Learned from Writing a Book: #8 Sometimes you must kill that which you love

So I’ve finished my first novel, Desires of the Soul, and it’s caused me to reflect on the things I’ve learned. Naturally, I want to share them with all of you. Maybe you’ve learned the same things; maybe you were lucky enough to already possess this wisdom. Either way, for the next couple of months, I’ll be posting a new lesson-learned every week (or so). I hope you’ll check back each week and weigh in with thoughts or lessons of your own. So without further ado, here is…

#8. Sometimes you must kill that which you love

It’s called “killing your darlings” in the literary world. You can write the most kickass chapter ever with clever phrases, amazing descriptions and phenomenal chemistry…but that doesn’t mean it belongs in your book.

After I finished one of my drafts, I sent it off to my three beta readers for some good ole crit-love. They all came back with a common theme:

The first three chapters are great (*puffs chest out in pride*), but not necessary for the story...(*dagger to the heart…*) Axe ‘em. (*…aaannd twist!*)

I did the whole, “Really? Huh. I’ll look it over and give that some serious thought.”

But what I was screaming in my head was, “Are you effing kidding me?!?! Do you have any idea how much I love those chapters? How will people know what their relationship was like before he was turned into a vampire? How are they supposed to see how viciously he struggled against them to spare the woman he loves the same fate? Not to mention how his turning actually helped his subsequent brilliant escape. It’s just not possible. So put. Down. The crack pipe.”

As you can see, I wasn’t overly distraught by their suggestion, but definitely mildly concerned.

After all, anything we write is done with nothing less than metaphorical blood, sweat, and tears—and possibly literally if you happen to get a paper cut while writing longhand in August with a broken air conditioner immediately after slicing onions for your sandwich—so the thought of cutting out anything from your manuscript is positively gut-wrenching. And those were my beginning chapters. They'd been with me from the very start of this writing journey. I loved those chapters.

However, from their Objective Seats in the Non-Biased Section of the amphitheater, my betas could see that those scenes were just prolonging the reader’s introduction to the true conflict of the story. The here and now, so to speak. And though it took me some time, I came to realize something very important…

They were right.

After crying in my cornflakes and wiping my nose on my sleeve, I finally wrote a new beginning that started the story in the thick of things. At last, the beginning had punch, an edgy and dark intensity that (hopefully) drew the reader in and posed all sorts of questions that would (hopefully) keep them turning the pages. I had successfully killed my darlings.

(Actually, it was more of a gentle extraction. Then I lovingly placed them on my flash drive where I can take them out on occasion and reminisce about the good times we shared and that one crazy night when…never mind.)

In the end, I added a revised and shortened version of my original first chapter after receiving a helpful rejection by an agent who loved everything about the first few chapters, but didn’t feel a strong connection with the characters. By reattaching that first chapter, I think I’ve given that connection back to the reader, without going overboard on backstory. It was definitely one of my favorite scenes between my main characters and I’m glad it’s back in.

Well, at least it’s in for now. Who knows what tomorrow holds. I might just have to kill it again. And if I do, it’ll probably be for the best.

So, spill...did you ever have to slice and dice even though it made you want to cry and kick and scream and possibly embark on a Twinkie-binge until you exploded?


  1. Scrapping anything from your book is painful, but the first chapters are always the hardest to let go. I had to do it with my first book, come to think of it my second, third, and fourth too.

    I think it's a tendency for most of us, that we write where the story actually begins, not where the action begins. And that's what we have to get to -- the action.

    And like you, I still have all my original beginnings tucked away. I never know when I'm going to need one.

  2. I tend to always have a chapter where I delve into a lot of back story that totally isn't necessary. For some reason I just plug it all in one place, so luckily, whenever I have to drop large chucks, it's usually only one large chunk and lots of little ones.

  3. I must be twisted because so far it hasn't bothered me to cut scenes or even chapters. I don't think it's normal.

    You know, I still remember those first chapters from DotS. Must be my obsession with Dom or something. ;) I'm glad you found a way to keep a part of that to show readers the connection between your main characters. Keeping my fingers crossed that it stays!


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