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!