A Plantser’s Life: How To Kill Those Pesky LittleDarlings

Hello My Lovely Internet Authors,

For today’s post, I’m going to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart, killing your darlings. For those who do not know what this phrase means, please allow me to elaborate. As an author, your darlings are those plot lines, phrases, characters, and even word choices holding your book back. When someone tells you to kill your darlings, they’re giving you advice for making your work shine.

Let me give you a few examples of darlings in need of murder from my own work. In my first novel, there was a three chapter portion showing how my character came to be where she was at the beginning of the story. It was for all intents and purposes a three chapter flashback weighing in at somewhere around 9500 words, and I adored every one of them. Seven beta readers all told me it dragged and was really nothing more than an information dump. Yet, through three revisions it remained because I refused to give up on my precious baby.

I railed against the injustice of people not understanding my vision. I threw temper tantrums like a toddler because no one got the point of the passage. I even draped myself across the couch in a display of melodramatic histrionics worthy of any PMSing teenage girl in the history of ever. Finally, a group I chat with daily made up of writers and one avid reader got tired of listening to me bitch. My Prose Ho’s are amazing ladies, and I don’t just say that because I’m related to one of them. I say this because no one else on this blue marble hurtling through space gets how my brain works. So when this group said, why is it so important and couldn’t you put throughout the story without the flashback and info dumping annoyance? I actually had to stop and consider it. a

I read it and discovered that chunk of precious was truly boring. I’m not talking slightly boring, I’m talking I-can’t-stay-awake-and-might-stop-breathing-boring. So boring in fact it made me want to poke myself in the eye with a pencil and cut off my hands for creating it. Then I discovered a neat trick, I took first ten chapters of my book and a free program text-to-speech program and made it read to me. With and without the 9500 words. It flowed so much better without it and showed me where I could place hints to the backstory that were far less obtrusive. On a side note, if you’re a self-pub author getting ready to send to beta readers this technique works well for initial proofreading. I wouldn’t trust it to be perfect, but when used in tandem it will limit the number of errors that get through before editing.

Now, please don’t cut crazy cutting up your precious manuscripts. Not all darlings work like mine did. In reality, I was very lucky, it was an easy to see problem with a straightforward solution. Not all darlings work this way. The problem for most writers is to figure out what their darlings are and whether or not removing them will create a bigger problem.

So you may wonder what I did with what happened to the chunk I removed. I’ll tell you this, I took the premise and modified it a little and offer it for free to my readers. It’s the prequel to my novel and focuses on the male main character of my story. Which explains why I never throw anything away when it comes to my writing. Just because it isn’t working at one point, doesn’t mean it won’t work for something else at a different time.

Until next time,

V. L. Cooke

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