Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, February 07, 2011

You Need to Hurt the Words You Love, & I Am Trying Something New

Originally, I was going to title this post killing your babies. This being a writing site, I was of course referring to your literary babies. But when I googled “killing your babies,” I decided maybe I’d come up with a different term. So let’s go with, “You Need to Hurt the Words You Love.” This is in answer to David Glenn, who asked, “What does an author do if there’s something (like a character or a situation) that they really want to put into their book, but it doesn’t do anything to help with the plot?”

The answer is probably not what he—or many of us want to hear. Have you ever come up with a great character, scene, or turn of phrase that you are absolutely dying to use ion a story? Maybe you even wrote it out, planning to use it at a certain point in your book, only to discover that as you wrote the story, that character, scene, or phrase didn’t really fit anymore.

You try to make it fit, like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters shoving and crunching their feet in a vain effort to slide into the glass slipper. But when your critique group, beta readers, or heaven forbid, your editor read it they nixed your baby. What to do? It’s a great scene. The character is so hilariously unpredictable. The sentence in a work of literary masterpiece.

I could beat around the bush here, but let’s be brutally honest. Cut it. Chop it. Kill it. Destroy it. Trying to keep a favorite scene that doesn’t fit into your story is like sticking an exotic orchid into a vase of daises. By itself it might be beautiful. Your character really might be as spectacular as you think she is (although she probably is not.) But it doesn’t matter. The orchid doesn’t fit among the daisies. Rather than adding to their beauty, it draws attention away from them in such a way that it actually harms the arrangement.

That’s what your “baby” does to your story. Even if you think you’ve camouflaged it well, the readers won’t be fooled. They’re reading an exciting beach thriller and unexpectedly come across a character that reads like something out of Lord of The Rings. Not only does the character seem out of place, but it pulls the reader out of the story that does fit.

More than one editor has suggested writers take their favorite line and cut it out of their books. That may seem extreme, but the reasoning is sound. If there is a particular scene or line which you love above the rest of your story, there’s a good chance it doesn’t fit with the rest of your writing.

Am I recommending that you cut out your favorite line? No. I’m not quite that heartless. But I do recommend that you look closely at anything that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the story, whether you hate it or love it. Keeping the reader “in” the story is much more important than the brilliance of any one piece.

On a completely unrelated note, I’ll still be posting here and on my J Scott Savage blog, but I’m also trying something new.

You may be familiar with the LDS Publisher blog. If you’re not, you should head on over. It’s a great blog that every author who has aspirations of publishing in either the national or LDS market should read. Beginning this week, I am excited to be a regular guest blogger there every Friday. My hope is that Friday’s column will be similar to what Nathan Bransford does on his blog every Friday where he links to interesting writing news and comments on it--but focused on the LDS market, LDS authors, and their blogs, podcasts, columns, etc. There will be a little humor, a little analysis, and hopefully a lot of information that will be useful to LDS writers. I’d love to have you come by and I’d love to know what blogs you enjoy the most and would recommend for other LDS writers.


At 2/08/2011 5:05 AM, Blogger LifeAsWeKnowIt said...

I once heard someone refer to it as "Murder your darlings" and I will be the first to admit that I really have a hard time with it, especially when I feel that the scene, line, or character came from a fit or brilliance. Those don't happen enough for my liking so I hold on when I can.
Can't wait for your Friday input on the LDS Publisher Blog!

At 2/08/2011 7:50 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

I'm looking forward to your guest blogs over at LDS Publisher already!

At 2/08/2011 9:26 AM, Blogger Steve Westover said...

Jeff, I'm looking forward to the guest posts.

The other day I was trying to remember "murder your darlings" and also came up with "kill your babies" which I agree, misses the mark a bit. I'm glad the previous comment reminded me of the phrase Stephen King uses (I don't think its unique to him.)But whatever we call it, its a good principle.

Once I edit and cut to a comfortable level where I feel happy with the result, I know its time to go in and make the painful cuts.

At 2/08/2011 2:16 PM, Anonymous Proud Daughter of Eve said...

I make a "scrap" file where I can put such things. Maybe they can be "re-homed" later but even if not, I can still gloat over them and enjoy them like a dragon pouring over its hoard. :D

At 2/08/2011 3:58 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Good point, Jeff! And I too will be watching for you over at LDS Publisher.

At 2/08/2011 9:34 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

I've done five major overhauls on my (now) finished manuscript. It started out in life with an incredible 267,000 words (833 pages,) but now is a healthy 73,000 printable story. But I haven't lost any words- they're just in a special file. Every once in a while I'll open that file and read how. . . terrible it was. Those rewrite jobs were essential for my growth, as well as making the story a sellable piece of work. (At least I hope!)

I'll be looking for you at LDS Publisher on Friday.


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