4 Tips in Killing Your Darlings

So last week, I talked about improving your narrative and touched on the idea of killing your darlings. Because this is what I’m currently [painfully] dealing with in my own rewrite, I thought I’d share a little of what’s been working for me.

Tip No. 1 – Identify Your Darlings

Killing your darlings is a little difficult when you don’t realize what they are. Please know I’m not trying to offend your genius, but sometimes your darlings sneak up on you. My most current darling came in the form of a two-sentence moment that had hung on to the MS since draft two.

Now into draft six, I’ve been dredging through Chapter 3 for a bit because I’ve been trying to keep this moment for whatever reason. In the words of YouTuber Grace Helbig, “I don’t know.” Once I realized that it was a darling, it was cut into the graveyard of manuscript outtakes.

Tip No. 2 – Have a Manuscript Outtakes Document

I did not come up with this idea, but it is a concept that I wish I had adopted earlier. The gorgeously talented J.L. Gribble, debut novel Steel Victory comes out this week – order a copy NOW, gave me the idea a few weeks ago during a critique session.

This does a couple of things: 1) You’re still hanging onto your darlings, so killing them from the MS is a little easier, 2) If you do ever have an opportunity to use them, they’re there at the ready, and 3) If by some chance you do get published and acquire a fan-base, you now have outtakes to share with them as easy promotional items.

Tip No. 3 – Follow Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules on Writing

Specifically (and I mentioned this last time) that each sentence should either develop character or advance plot. It took me a while to understand what this really meant because in my little baby writer brain, I looked at my MS and said “but it does develop character; it does advance plot.” In reality, I was focusing on the wrong things, making the beginning narrative slow and boring. It “technically” did what I needed it to – develop the relationships of my two main characters and set the stage for what’s up against them – but I was focusing so much on what made my characters who they were instead of who they are in the moment that the plot was stagnant. This is a hard concept to wrap your head around, but once it clicks, you’ll see the improvements in the writing.

See the full list of Vonnegut’s Rules here.

Tip No. 4 – Have a Trusted Writing Buddy

I think I’ve developed a strange dependency on my uber talented group of writer friends because I know without a doubt that my writing would not be improving without them. Going back to what I was saying before about my headache that is Chapter 3, that darling I didn’t realize was a darling – yeah, my friend and CP Chelsea was kind enough to tell me, “I think that’s going a little far.” Which of course hit a switch in my head, causing an immediate ::face:palm::. I had been struggling with the writing because I was trying to keep something that didn’t belong there. I was trying to save a darling.

Once I transferred said darling over to the graveyard, it opened the way for me to concentrate on the plot movement and figure out how to close out the chapter (which will hopefully happen tonight).

I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. What about you? Do you have any tips on killing the darlings in your WIP? Share them in the comments below.

Happy Writing!

Leveling Up: What happens when your writing improves mid-WIP

So most of us are in a continuous state of evolution and growth. From personal to political, we’re constantly changing. This is a good thing.

Except when you’re at the forefront of the latest draft of your WIP and you have no idea whether or not what you’re writing is going in the right direction. I want to pull my hair out. This is a thing.

I’ve been writing fiction most of my life, but that doesn’t mean it was good fiction. My first full-length novel ended up in the dark abyss of projects that will never EVER see the light of day. It was written in Middle School, very few things written that young are worth reading without MAJOR revisions, usually a total rewrite.

Over the years, I’ve gone through numerous growth spurts in my writing skill level. From Middle School to High School. High School to College. College to Military. Military to Private Sector. These were all gradual evolutions that I managed to pass through without grow pains. But this latest one, after my first experience with beta-readers, is KICKING MY ASS!

The notes that I received from the betas weren’t harsh enough to warrant a total rewrite, but that’s pretty much what’s taking place. Since writing the vomit draft of the current WIP, I’ve been trying to polish my skills in the narrative arena. I’m great with dialogue, I’m great with pacing, I’m pretty solid on the plotting front, but narrative – a well-crafted, well-rounded, says-everything-you-need-it-to-and-communicates-to-the-reader-what’s-in-your-head narrative – is my nemesis.

Luckily, I have a wonderfully talented and patient group of writer friends who are helping me smooth out some of the kinks. Safe to say I owe them all a giant gift basket when all this is said and done. But here’s what I’ve learned so far in my epic battle with a properly fleshed-out narrative:

1. Take your time. I know how excited you are for the next plot point or big character moment, but when you’re sitting there, revising your work, really sink into each moment. Doing this may create some needed world building or reveal a character gem you had either forgotten or hadn’t discovered yet.

2. Apply Kurt Vonnegut’s rules on writing to your work. Here’s a link. A friend of mine introduced me to these rules a few months ago, but it took a beta-read for them to sink in. If you followed the link, I want to single out rule No. 4, “Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.” Be meticulous in your placement of information. It’s painful when you first start doing this, but the new draft is totally worth the frustration.

3. Be merciless in your revision. I know we’ve all heard the phrase “kill your darlings,” but I feel the need to bring it up here. I don’t mean kill your characters, the phrase really goes quite deeper than that. Maybe everyone else knew this and I was the slow one, but here’s my two cents anyway. “Darlings” refers to everything in your manuscript, from characters and plots to sentences and word choice. It doesn’t matter if it is the best paragraph you’ve ever written in your entire life. If it doesn’t do anything to support the narrative, axe it.

I’m sure I’ll rant about the pains of writing narrative in future posts, but this is it for now. I’m off to go slave away on the WIP. 🙂

Happy Writing!

Transitions: Difficult on and off the page.

Well I made it to Florida and began my new job as a Director of Marketing (I feel super grown-up, guys!). Last week was definitely a culture shock going from fast-paced DC to Destin’s more relaxed way of life. It’s not bad, just different. I promise I’ll get back to actually blogging about the writing craft soon (because I’ve learned SO MANY THINGS in the last couple months – Thank you, Chelsea and Hanna!). But until my feet are firmly planted in this new chapter of my life, my brain is consumed with trying to maintain my writing habits amongst my new schedule/work load.

Which brings me to this week’s topic: transitions.

While I’ve been slaving away on the post-beta rewrite for the WIP, I’ve noticed something curious about my transitions – they’re getting better.

In the previous draft, many of the transitions were jump cuts from one scene to the next, which in truth, is kind of a lazy form of storytelling. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for jump cut transitions (definition below), but most of the time, they’re wasted opportunities to show the reader how your characters are responding to the world around them.

Now, transitions are difficult to write in general, and for a plotter like me, they’re frustrating bouts of space that keep me from jumping into the next juicy piece of plot. But here’s thing, if you don’t allow your protagonists an opportunity to process what’s happening to them, your readers won’t be able to sympathize with your character’s development.

So take a breath, slow down and let your readers enjoy those quiet moments with your characters.

Happy writing!

Jump Cut Transition: I stole the term “jump cut” from my video-editing peoples, which refers to an edit where the action isn’t continuous from one frame to another. For the print medium, I use it to describe when you leave an extra space in the formatting to show that you’re moving to another location/time in the story.  

The Writing Slump

Well folks, I’ve hit it, the dubious “writing slump”. Granted, I’ve had a lot going on, but if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I think it’s rather clear that I don’t accept that as a valid excuse. Now don’t get me wrong, a break is good for the soul every now and again, but I look at my past month and the workaholic in me sees all the things I didn’t do. It’s a character flaw I need to work on, but in the eternal words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking.”

Yes, that was a Buffy reference. Get over it.

Anyhoo, back to Vesuvius the writing slump (because I name things that make me angry after things that go “BOOM”), it’s not that I can’t write or won’t write, more over my brain is too caught up in what’s going on around me to focus on a new novel. Vesuvius just came in, scraped his rusted fold-out chair across the varnished hardwood floors of my brain, set up shop at the intersection of creativity and productivity and heckled me until I gave up and jumped into the next episode of Veronica Mars.

So yes, I had plans for this past month while book 1 was with beta readers. I was going to rewrite book 2 and map out book 3, along with publishing weekly posts here. The reality of this past month is as follows:

  1. 3 blog posts – skipped a week because I was coming back from a writing retreat with Raw Dog Screaming Press. It was a lot of fun and exactly what I needed.
  2. Read through book 2, made a lot of notes for changes to plot/character and such, spent the rest of the month mauling over whether or not to just start from scratch completely. I’ve rewritten the first paragraph in my head many, many, MANY times before going to sleep the past few weeks.
  3. Wrote the first chapter (that will be scrapped) of book 3. I don’t regret writing it, because of that scrap chapter, I was able to finally let go of a setting that was only half-cocked anyway. I did map out the book, but only got as far as the midpoint. Hint: Time Travel is not easy to plot.
  4. I also put together a 53-page digital magazine and put my sister-in-law and her puppy on a plane to Germany (for any of your who’ve ever flown internationally with pets through the military, you know that this is a HIGH-STRESS event).

I promise there is a reason why I chose to list out what I’ve accomplished this month. I wanted to show that just because we writers tend to fall on the side of “I haven’t accomplished anything,” doesn’t mean that what we’re feeling is the reality. So if you’re in a writing slump, take the time to make a list of the things you have accomplished during that time, it may take some of the pressure off.

The Never-Ending Cycle of Revision

So I spent this past weekend working hard on the third round of revisions for my WIP when I realized that I really, truly am a workaholic. Not that this comes as a surprise, but as I finished the edits on chapter 9 (of 26), I found that I’m genuinely excited for the next draft, and the draft after that and the draft after that.

Each draft presents an opportunity to clarify the story and bring depth to characters, which means that each time I read through a new version, I’m that much closer to having the product I want readers to [hopefully] enjoy.

Now every writer’s revision process differs. I wish I could revise as I go on the computer, but I’m weird and feel oddly attached to the words on the screen. So I print out the whole draft and ruthlessly rip into it, type in my edits, then do the whole process all over again.

(I have this irrational fear that there’s a tenth circle of hell for everyone involved in print publishing where trees punish us for turning their friends and families into paper, so every time I print out my MS or the magazine at work, I suffer this unsettling guilt…)

The process is a bit long and drawn out as I mark-up the entire manuscript each time. It’s not that I don’t like to concentrate on smaller pieces, it’s more so I just enjoy getting a feel for the pacing of the different character and plot arcs and how they connect. I participate in a critique group that looks at 10-20 pages at a time and their input is invaluable when it comes to improving the writing and avoiding certain issues. But as a novelist, I feel like I need to ensure the overall product is cohesive. To me, that means printing out the entire draft, sitting on my couch and reading through it from beginning to end, notating where things don’t work, what’s redundant and what needs revision.

Like I said, this is just my process and you have to find what works for you. Just remember that revision is an integral part of the writing process. Yes, it’s tedious and often frustrating, but when you do finally reach that final draft, you’ll be so glad you did!

Happy Writing & Revising!