jade hemming · jadewritesbooks · writing process

Killing Your Darlings (and Other Such Problems)

Unfortunately, there comes a time in a writer’s journey where a piece of writing close to their heart has to be sacrificed for the greater good. Sometimes it’s for the word count, other times it’s simply because it doesn’t fit any more and no matter how much you put smoke and mirrors around it – it’s still there, a bump in the rhythm of your prose, distracting the reader.

You just didn’t want to cut it.

I’ve had to suck up courage several times over the last month. A character I loved, bright and cheeky, was just too expendable and as much as it pained me to admit, added nothing. He no longer fit in the vein of the story and rather than liven it up, he dragged the flow down. He simply had to go. I will miss Mr Madison, yet he will live again.

I still have his scenes saved somewhere. Now and again I crop up on a reference to his role in the novel. With a sigh, I erase him like tiny branches from the main bough. My great-grandmother used to say:

“Parting is such sweet sorrow! – but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

ALAS – Mr Madison I will not see you tomorrow. I’ll probably see you many years down the line when I remember you exist and write a book about you and ‘your ways’.

It’s not just characters who fall foul of the brutal editing process. Scenes, some of my favourite scenes, with the wittiest of lines (ha) end up on the book version of the cutting-room floor, lost in computer code or the waste paper basket.

I remember there was such a wonderful scene where my main character woke up next to a recent bed-partner, still drunk out of his skull, and had to scout the bedroom for his underpants. He then pretended to be sober in front of a neighbour. If I’d have read that in someone else’s book I would have been giggling at the imagery. That’s how I tend to write my scenes, figuring out if I’d laugh if someone else had written it instead of me. Well I found it funny, not simply because his drunken stupor was drawn from the first time I’d ever been properly drunk aged 26 – and then I found it didn’t fit any more.

The pace of the story was not going to work and it didn’t make sense having some scenes shifting around for it to be there. So, with a heavy heart, I selected the text and cut it. I still have it, so I can read it and laugh at the memory. Again, it’s stored away for future use.

I like reading other peoples’ tales of when they restructured and of the characters-who-never-were. I have several who didn’t make the recent version of George but that was long before I was attached to them. Settings, like a grand hotel I stayed in once whilst writing the novel, didn’t make it in the end. The book simply evolved past it.

The hard part isn’t realising that something has to go, it’s actually removing it, and when you have a baby – for all creations of mine are offspring in some way – it’s almost like Sophie’s Choice. The frustrating bit comes after, where you have to look deep into the roots of the thing to find out how you can tie the loose ends together like a master seamstress.

I’m still chugging through this one, erasing little bits here and there of sub-plots and names gone before but no longer usable.

In fact I like looking back at the scars of my snippets – it proves to me just how far I’ve come with this thing. It’s assurance that, if there’s anything I can say about my writing with surety, it’s never stuck in one place.

So don’t be afraid to kill your darlings! Just, you know – not on the George RR Martin scale. You at least want SOME book left.

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2 thoughts on “Killing Your Darlings (and Other Such Problems)

  1. In editing, I cut two of my main characters and a whole sub-plot to keep my novel more focused. But it’s important to remember those characters aren’t dead – they’re just waiting for their own story.

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