Killing Your Darlings and other Writerly Issues

I got the edits back on Steel Rose, and was glad I had an editor look over the book. Maura Anderson has done a thorough job on Steel Rose, and Toni Rakestraw has done well by me on the stories for City of Brotherly Death. For me to edit my own work would be like a doctor treating his relatives. In both cases, we’re too close to the relatives (or book, in my case) to make wise choices.

One of my major weaknesses was inconsistency. Example: Laurel is my villain, and her negligence causes a patient’s death. The boss fires her and orders two security officers to walk her to her car. All well and good, but two pages later, when Laurel muttered a plan to kill people and dented a car on her way out of the garage, I failed to mention the guards. “What happened to the guards?” asked my editor in her thought balloon. “Surely, they would be watching Laurel.”

So I revised that scene, and upon further thought, I realized that several chapters later, when the police interview the protagonist Alexis about Laurel, they might mention that Laurel is wanted for fleeing the scene of an accident. So I will revise that section also.

It’s not enough that Laurel got fired. When negligence results in a patient’s death in a hospital, the employer is required to report this to the state license board. I know this full well, being a registered respiratory therapist. Alas, I did not include this in the scene where the boss fires Laurel, and the editor called me on it. I might have called my writers for NTD on similar issues. But like many writers, I find it hard to see my own mistakes.

Another area I struggle with is the need to kill my darlings. No, seriously. I love “cute” expressions, but I had to ditch a lot of them because they confused the reader. Example, I typed, “The essence of Laurel wafted her way.” The editor crossed out “essence of Laurel” and replaced it with “Laurel’s smell.” Toni and other editors have called me on my tendency to use too many metaphors, too. I had Yeron, Alexis’ alien lover, thinking the zombies were “wearing death like an overcoat in February.” Us humans might think that way, but not aliens. Hereafter I will save the “cuteness” for my Mylar balloons.

One thing Maura recommended was a timeline, and this advice ties in with a suggestion that author / agent Marie Lamba gave at the Writer’s Coffeehouse meeting about using a calendar to keep track of seasons and important dates for your protagonist. Hereafter I will consider outlining chapters.

I’d like to hear about your struggles with the writing process? Do you outline, and if you do, how has it worked for you? Do you find it hard to kill your darlings? Any other struggles? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine
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  1. Pacing and timeline is very important in a story. I try to be aware of both when telling a story. I love the old pulp stories, when writers didn’t bother with either. I read a war story in which a general was preparing his men to attack an invading army in California on the next day. He sends a message to New York, requesting a battle ship. One is dispatched, travels through the Panama Canal and arrived the next morning to assist in the battle. That must have been one fast ship! But science fiction was really fantastic. The hero could jump in his rocket ship on Earth and blast off for Mars, and be there in an hour. This was before we thought of time warps or faster-than-the-the-speed-of light flight. Just like jumping in your automobile and running down to the grocery store (lol). But hey, I loved it!!! I still read those crazy old stories.

    • Pacing is important. I find a lot of good action in your stories, while mine tends to focus on the emotion of the character. Oh, I will have battles, but the protag wil lbe worried for her mother. Pulp Echoes read really well!

  2. I don’t tend to play around with cute expressions.

    I plan my story but I am willing to make changes that best suit the story I wish to tell. This being said, I usually don’t have out and out villains. Once a villain’s motives are know they don’t tend to be as villainous. In real life this is also the case. Unfortunately, in real life we almost never get as complete a picture of someone else as we may need to take them off the villain list or demote them to villain second class. In my latest novel, Desk Job, the villain of the peace is the wind witch, Kaze Majo. As we delve into the novel, however, we discover that there are others in the office which contributed to her being the way she was.

  3. There’s a point where the use of distinctive phrases doesn’t add to the story, instead it pulls the reader out of the story to assess why THAT particular phrase would be used. At that point, it is no longer a good thing for the story and needs to be simplified.

    Even if authors don’t outline the entire story, a timeline (even after the story is written, solely to double-check the facts) can pay enormous dividends in making sure the timeline of the story works without the intervention of time-travel or cryonic suspension. 🙂

    • Maura, thank you for posting your thoughts. For timeline, I notice some authors actually publish their book with the timeline under each chapter. I did start out with a timeline on Steel Rose, and then after I thought I had the story in a direction where I wanted, I discarded the timeline. Capital mistake.

  4. There is a fine balancing act to be done on the “darlings.” Distinctive word use can be good but there’s a point at where it becomes distracting or instead of adding to the story, it pulls the reader out of the story to try to dissect the reason for that phrase, in particular, to be used.

    Even if authors don’t fully outline their stories, it’s usually a good idea to draw up a basic timeline and make sure that when things occur makes sense overall. If you have a scene where a character gets on a plane to fly to another continent and then a scene where the character arrives, it pays to make sure the time from the first scene to the second works in real life.

  5. Actually, I stay away from those “darlings”, as they turn your story into flowers, and you lose the action to pretty words.

    As for an outline, no I work out my characters and plot, and know where the story is going before I write it. In other words, I may even start at the end, then let the characters and plot get me there. I’ve tried to outline, but when I did, I tended to change things as I went, and the outline went out the window. My plots are simple, and my characters drive the story. If I do any outlining at all, I outline each chapter as I go. What do I want to happen in this chapter, then how do I make it happen? After that chapter, I start on the next one. It seems to work for me, and that’s what counts. What works for you, works for you. It may not work for me. Everyone has their own method.

  6. I love authors who understand what editors do for them! It was great to read your post!

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