Little Darlings & Why They Must Die…for REAL

But you LOVE me….

Almost any of us who decided one day to get serious about our writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. Great book, if you haven’t read it. But one thing King tells us we writers must be willing to do, is that we must be willing to, “Kill the little darlings.” Now, King was not the first to give this advice. He actually got the idea from Faulkner, but I guess we just took it more seriously when King said it…because now the darlings would die by a hatchet, be buried in a cursed Indian filing cabinet where they would come back as really bad novels. …oops, I digress.

Little darlings are those favorite bits of prose, description, dialogue or even characters that really add nothing to the forward momentum or development of the plot. To be great writers, we must learn to look honestly at all little darlings. Why? Because they are usually masking critical flaws in the overall plot.

Today we will address two especially nefarious writing hazards that like to lurk below the wittiest dialogue and most breathtaking description:

Hazard #1—Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Hazard #2—Mistaking Complexity for Conflict

These two related booby-traps are often hidden beneath our little darlings (clever dialogue, beautiful description, etc).

That is probably why Stephen King recommended we kill them. Yes, kill them dead. No burying them in the Pet Semetary, also known as “revision.” Killing means killing….as in delete forever. Or at least cut them cleanly from the story and hide in a Word folder to give yourself time to grieve and move on with the real novel. Yet, too many times we hang on to those favorite characters or bits of dialogue, reworking them and hoping we can make them fit…at the expense of the rest of the story.

Th-they come back….but *shivers* they are…different.

Let me explain why it is important to let go.

Hazard #1—Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Drama is created when a writer has good characterization that meets with good conflict. Good characterization is what breathes life into black letters on a white page, creating “people” who are sometimes more real to us than their flesh and blood counterparts. The problem is that characterization is a skill that has to be learned, usually from a lot of mistakes. Yet, time and time again, I see writers—as NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer would say—moving deck chairs around on the Titanic.

In a last ditch attempt to spare a darling, a writer describes the character more, or gives more info dump or more internal thought, or more back story, yet never manages to accomplish true characterization. So, when something really bad happens, we the reader just don’t care. Les Edgerton, in his book Hooked explores this problem in detail if you would like to read more, but to keep it short and sweet I’m going to explain it this way.

Most of us have driven down a highway at around rush hour, so picture this scenario.

We notice emergency lights ahead. The oncoming traffic lane is shut down and looks like a debris field. Four mangled cars lay in ruins, surrounded by somber EMTs. Do you feel badly? Unless you’re a sociopath, of course you do.

Now, you look into that same oncoming lane and two of the cars you recognize. They belong to friends you were supposed to meet for dinner.

Before you cared…now you are connected.

That is how good characterization makes the difference. If we open our story with this gut-wrenching scene in a hospital where someone is dying, we are taking a risk. Readers will certainly care on a human level, but not on the visceral level that makes them have to close the book and get tissue.

I have had to pry many, many darlings like these away from desperate writers “parents” unwilling to take the scenes off of life support. They wrote opening scenes of car accidents and hospitals and death and child abduction so vivid they couldn’t read their own work without tearing up. I did the same thing early in my writing journey. The problem, however, was this…

No one but us cared.

We hadn’t done enough development of the story to make the readers just as vested as we were. And, because we were so determined to keep these gut-wrenching scenes, we never dug in and did the real work that would have made the audience cry too.

Hazard #2—Mistaking Complexity for Conflict

Complexity is easily mistaken for conflict. I witness this pitfall in most new novels. I teach at a lot of conferences, and, in between my sessions, I like to talk new and hopeful writers. I often ask them what their books are about and the conversation generally sounds a bit like this:

Me: What’s your book about?

Writer: Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a vampire and he’s actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

Me: Huh? Okay. Who is the antagonist?

Writer: *blank stare*

Me: What is her goal?

Writer: Um. To find out who she is?

These conversations actually make me chuckle because now I know what Bob Mayer felt like the day he met me :D. My first novel was so complex, I don’t even think I fully understood it. Most writers want to land an agent, yet, out of everyone I talk to, I can guarantee that only two or three will be able to state what their novel is about in three sentences or less.

Most new novels don’t have a singular core story problem. It is my opinion that baby writers, deep down, know they’re missing the backbone to their story—CONFLICT. I believe they sense it on a sub-conscious level, and that is why their plots grow more and more and more complicated.

They are trying to fix a structural issue with Bond-o putty and duct tape and then hoping no one will notice. How do I know this?

I used to own stock in Plot Bond-o.

The problem is, complexity is not conflict. We can create an interstellar conspiracy, birth an entirely new underground spy network, resurrect a dead sibling who in reality was sold off at birth, or even start the Second Civil War to cover up the space alien invasion…but it ain’t conflict. Interstellar war, guerilla attacks, or evil twins coming back to life can be the BACKDROP for conflict, but alone are not conflict.

And, yes, I learned this lesson the hard way. Most of us do. This is all part of the author learning curve, so don’t fret and just keep writing and learning.

Little darlings are often birthed from us getting too complex. We frequently get too complex when we are trying to b.s. our way through something we don’t understand and hope works itself out. Um, it won’t. Tried it. Just painted myself into a corner. But we get complex to hide our errors and then we risk falling so in love with our own cleverness—the subplots, the twist endings, the evil twin—that we can sabotage our entire story.

I sincerely believe these little darlings are like fluffy beds of leaves covering punji pits of writing death.

Be truthful. Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave? We put our craftiest work into buttressing our errors, so I would highly recommend taking a critical look at the favorite parts of your manuscript and then get real honest about why they’re there. And then kill them dead and bury your pets for real.

You have rewritten me 14 times. You think I’m going to leave without a fight? Hssssssss.

So what do you do with your little darlings? What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips, tools or tactics to help us dispose of the bodies?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of September I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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  1. #1 by Miriam Joy on September 10, 2012 - 7:47 am

    Great post! I’m still working on all of these… I think I’m slowly getting there (beta readers email me and tell me that I’m ‘giving them feels’ so I guess they care about the characters, right?) but I still have a way to go.

  2. #2 by howmyspiritsings on September 10, 2012 - 7:49 am

    In my first book, I did many of the things you have mentioned. After editing numerous times, I finally had to kill the first 3 chapters of the book. It’s okay to write fluff when writing your first draft, but under no circumstances should we include it in the final rendition of our magnum opus. I always love your work, Kristen. Thanks again!

    • #3 by The Meandering Matriarch on September 10, 2012 - 7:30 pm

      Good point about it being okay to have fluff in your first draft–it sometimes helps to keep the momentum of getting the story out if you aren’t too distracted by self-editing as you go. But that only applies to the first draft…

  3. #4 by Yvonne Hertzberger on September 10, 2012 - 7:50 am

    After my first editorial review of my first book I cut the word count by 30%. The book is so much better now. Good stuff. Thanks. Now I need to work on those ‘thens, buts and ands’.

  4. #5 by Derek Hawkins (@wrytersblockDH) on September 10, 2012 - 7:52 am

    I have that 3 sentence summary problem.

  5. #6 by broadsideblog on September 10, 2012 - 7:53 am

    As usual, chiming in from the non-fiction front…same issue for us NF writers. The best cure for persistent darlings are editors only too happy to hit the delete button. I write for the NYT and know that every single time I will have to go mano a mano over a phrase or wording I LOVE and they don’t. Guess who wins?

    I think every writer should do some newspaper journalism along the way, freelance or staff. You learn very quickly that Job One is getting your readers’ attention very quickly (in the lede graf) or your editor will do whatever s/he wishes to your copy to get it there. You cannot be deeply attached to all your words because….you’re going to do it all over again tomorrow!

    It is excellent training in many respects, perhaps the most useful of which is teaching you that your reader’s undivided attention is a rare and precious gift you must fight hard to win and keep, not assume is there for the taking.

    • #7 by The Meandering Matriarch on September 10, 2012 - 7:27 pm

      How right you are. Good, crisp writing that doesn’t waffle or embellish is the target in any form of writing. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. #8 by Harley Brooks on September 10, 2012 - 7:53 am

    I actually have a blanket on several books piled next to my deck chair on the Titanic. It’s where I go to relax. My pet cemetery has ornate tomb markers so I know exactly where “Fluffy” is and I can go there to lament…or sadly, dig him up and try to give him mouth-to-mouth. Soooo true. Thanks for the reminder I must go on a killing spree!

  7. #9 by Courtney Crow Wyrtzen on September 10, 2012 - 7:59 am

    Timely post– I often say things about the Pet Cemetery and how burying something (anything, not just little darlings) there is ‘not worth it’. Ppl look at me funny. Now I know you would nod and smile ~

  8. #10 by Rose Ortiz on September 10, 2012 - 8:05 am

    As always, another great blog….I’ve forwarded to my critique partner who missed you when you visited Tucson and am sharing with my Facebook friends……I have nightmares of these little beasties hiding under my bed at night and jumping out screaming, “You can’t KILL ME!”

  9. #11 by Normandie Ward Fischer on September 10, 2012 - 8:05 am

    Ah. My editor’s pen slashes these regularly. And then I go back and look at my own writing. Sigh. How easily we can see the errors of others, and how much the knife hurts when it digs the fat from our own stories — fiction or non.

  10. #12 by Tess Harding on September 10, 2012 - 8:10 am

    In business we have the ‘elevator’ pitch. Tell someone all about your business and why they should deal with you in 15 seconds. The same as your three sentence summary.

    I remember having a long discussion about this on LinkedIn somewhere a while back. I put it that anyone should be able to pitch their book in 15 words or less – even tougher than three sentences.

    What I got back was ‘I couldn’t possibly do that. I need at last 1,000 words to tell a reader about my book’. What they really meant is they don’t know the core story of their novel well enough to summarize in a single sentence, let alone three. Or, they don’t have enough faith in their concept to trust the reader to ‘get’ it without a whole bunch of explanation.

    I’m a great believer in outlining, and always try to start each book with the 15 word summary. Only when I’ve got that do I know whether it’s worth investing several months of my time to finish it.

    Great post, as always.

  11. #13 by Paul Anthony Shortt (@PAShortt) on September 10, 2012 - 8:17 am

    .

  12. #14 by Paul Anthony Shortt (@PAShortt) on September 10, 2012 - 8:17 am

    Yes, yes yes! I recently had to kill three whole books becaue I realised my series was stronger as a trilogy. I can now flat-out tell you in three sentences or less what each book is about, each one building on the events of the last.

  13. #15 by livrancourt on September 10, 2012 - 8:23 am

    Starting with the log line helps a lot, but even so now you’ve got me worried about a couple elements of my current WIP…

  14. #16 by Judith Post on September 10, 2012 - 8:32 am

    Really loved this post. And I love Les Edgerton’s book HOOKED. Thanks for the reminder that conflict shows character.

  15. #17 by colonialist on September 10, 2012 - 8:32 am

    *sigh* This absolute compulsion to drive the plot at the expense of sheer enjoyment. Think of how many passages in ‘great’ books which are memorable in themselves could have been left out at no cost to the plot whatsoever. Of course, if they are not totally relevant they have to be totally good. Also, they should not divert attention or seem out of place, and this aspect does depend on the genre and style.

    • #18 by danijace on September 11, 2012 - 9:13 am

      Totally agree! Each scene should move the plot forward, but witty dialog that’s part of the charactor and a few roses along the sidewalk don’t detract from my enjoyment of a novel.

  16. #19 by Ellen J. Miller on September 10, 2012 - 8:38 am

    Some interesting questions raised, and some interesting ideas gained. I’ll be sure to jot these down to go over later.

  17. #20 by philangelus on September 10, 2012 - 8:44 am

    Thanks for this. My husband and I have been watching movies lately and analyzing the ones we watch, and invariably the worst ones are the ones where the plot has multiple forks and multiple antagonists, whereas the ones that succeed have a single driving focus throughout.

  18. #21 by Samuel Solomon on September 10, 2012 - 8:56 am

    I still don’t understand ‘little darlings’ entirely. I stop to think about my 3 novels so far with respect to this blog, and I don’t think I have any. But that could also mean that I’m just not seeing them.

    For me, nothing goes in my book without a reason. I do a lot of symbolism and the intricacy of setups and payoffs… so some of the setups might look like darlings at first, until the surprise is revealed, and we see why I was building that setup. The payoffs exist for reader satisfaction, and as setups for the ending. All my books have a point- loglines are not a problem. I know exactly what I want to ‘say’ with a novel before I ever write “Chapter One”.

    So, darlings…. I really don’t know if I have them or not.

    In my recent novel, “The Gypsy Queen”, there is some intricacy… but I don’t do it because its fun- it makes the project more difficult. I do it because the story requires it, in order to bring everything to exactly where I want it, to write the climax I need, and drive home my points. I like to do some colorful and fun stuff too, but it’s to balance out the book, not to cover anything up. I want my characters to have fun as well as trouble. I do that in small doses and then usually ruin the fun with some new conflict =)

    I don’t know. Maybe someone who is an expert in ‘darlings’ will take a look at my stuff one day, and I’ll get a better idea.

    • #22 by alicamckennajohnson on September 10, 2012 - 5:31 pm

      I think for me a little darling is a character/ plot line/ or bit of writing that when my critique partners tell me it needs to go I want to cry and begin to righteous defend it. They wait sigh and tell me again why it needs to go. They are always right BTW

  19. #23 by The Hook on September 10, 2012 - 8:56 am

    I think there will be a special place in Heaven reserved for you, Kristen!
    Your hard work and perseverance are evident in your steady stream of enlightening tips for “literary newbs” like me!
    BY the way, I hope you’ve had a chance to check out my blog and cast your gaze upon your plug; it appears in every post and I hope it sends a few readers your way.
    They’ll be richer for the experience… I know I am.

  20. #24 by Jennette Marie Powell on September 10, 2012 - 9:11 am

    Many times we hear that what we think is scene one really isn’t. I’ve tried a writing exercise that suggests pulling an attention-grabbing scene from later in the book and moving it to the beginning. My beta readers call me out on this every time. I’m learning to trust my instincts on how to start my book, and that maybe that dramatic scene isn’t needed at all.

  21. #25 by lesedgerton on September 10, 2012 - 9:13 am

    Thanks for the shout-out of Hooked, Kristen. You da bomb!

  22. #26 by http://dianawilderauthor.com on September 10, 2012 - 9:33 am

    Good post – the second part really speaks to me. I used to make my friends laugh when they asked me to tell about whatever I was working on. I could butcher any plot very easily and was especially good at mangling my own.

    It took a long time before I could say, \”What\’s it about? The story arises from a young man\’s death and deals with that death\’s effect on his father and his younger brother. The main protagonist, the father, is a man with a great deal of power and influence, and in the course of dealing with this grief he comes to terms with the limitations of his power, the passage of time, and the fact that he is a man as well as a (powerful person).\”

    74 words (I\’d tweak them, but it\’s spur-of-the-moment right now). Not bad. Took a lot of \’little darling\’ killings to get to this point.

  23. #27 by David Kazzie on September 10, 2012 - 10:00 am

    And it isn’t just newbie writers who are susceptible to making this mistake. I think all writers have to be careful, especially if you’re a veteran writer with a really good idea for a novel. I’m dealing with this now — great idea for a book, but no defined quest for the protagonist, no real sense of who even is or what he wants, and what do we have? A good idea bouncing around sadly for 95K words.

    I compared it to my debut novel, a bestseller, and found that my first book has a simple, easy-to-spot narrative quest for the protagonist. In the my current manuscript disaster? Nope. Just the main character, stumbling around, unsure of what he wants, whining and complaining.

    Don’t make the mistake I did — trust me, it’s very easy to do.

  24. #28 by jodenton445 on September 10, 2012 - 10:02 am

    The more I read your posts, the more I realize I’ve not only come a long way, but I have soooo much more to learn! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Love the post.

  25. #29 by Noah Murphy on September 10, 2012 - 10:27 am

    In the novel I’m finishing editing, my little darlings were bits of causal narration that after going back and re-reading them later, most just seemed amateurish. So on the chopping back they went. Sometimes a major revision of the text was necessary, but the book better is off for it.
    Killing darling is sometimes painful, but its necessary.

  26. #30 by Charley Pearson on September 10, 2012 - 10:42 am

    Where can I get a cursed Indian filing cabinet? That sounds awesome! (heh, heh)

  27. #31 by Ariana Wells on September 10, 2012 - 10:43 am

    Boy, did this post come at the right time! I’m fighting with this exact problem in my new novel. It’s the second in a series and I’m finding I want to put in the whole first book as “back story” for every character, scene and sub-plot. OY! I write three pages of perfect darlings that I just love and then spend the next three hours reading, cutting and rewriting. On a positive note: by chapter six . . . yeah, I know – slow learner . . . . I’m actually starting to ask myself how this character/scene will move the story. I’ve started a writing mantra- “Will this scene move the plot forward or make it tread water?”

    As for the three sentence story description? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Maybe next month.

  28. #32 by annerallen on September 10, 2012 - 10:54 am

    You put this so well. I never thought of it quite this way before: the “darlings” are clever things we invent to cover up a basic story flaw. We put all our creativity into covering up the mess instead of solving it. I run into this all the time with beginning writers. They say “my book is character-driven, not plot-driven” so they think they don’t have to have an antagonist. They end up writing a series of episodes, like a TV series, instead of a whole novel, and there’s nothing to drive the reader through to the end.

  29. #33 by ReadingAlcove on September 10, 2012 - 11:03 am

    The moderator of one of the writing groups I belong to leveraged this into a writing game on our “extended” website. She reposted the article and suggested that we each take our current work and write three things: 1 – 15 word synopsis (the elevator speech), 3 sentence description (back of the book) and a 2 paragraph summary (web page). Her game is called “Killing our Precious:” http://wherewritersandauthorsmeet.webs.com/apps/forums/topics/show/8075720-killing-our-precious-a-game Just a hats off to a great group moderator.

  30. #35 by Kasey mathews on September 10, 2012 - 11:08 am

    Thanks for the reminder of how much I love Steven King’s book. Gonna go pull it off the shelf right now!

  31. #36 by Maryann Miller on September 10, 2012 - 11:19 am

    Very helpful post, as always, Kristen. That picture of the doll is enough to scare any writer into cutting the fluff. LOL

    I really liked how you pointed out the difference between melodrama and drama. Once I got deeply involved in directing and acting, I could see that difference in the shows we put on. That did help me start recognizing it in my writing. The melodramas that we did relied on pratfalls, funny dialogue, over-the-top characterization, whereas the dramatic plays had more real story to them. That was a neat learning experience.

  32. #37 by Sarah on September 10, 2012 - 11:26 am

    Just been introduced to your blog by holly at Arabic zeal. Great post. Will help me do what my mum has been at me to do for years – plan. I’ve never been much of a killer, so I’ll try and leave the darlings out from the beginning

  33. #38 by Dave on September 10, 2012 - 11:36 am

    I also recommend Stephen King’s, On Writing but in the audiobook version. A great listen!

  34. #39 by Jae on September 10, 2012 - 11:40 am

    This has brought me a little relief, at least in thinking it’s okay I just bombed the jujubes out of my novel in a major darling killing way. But at the same time I feel some anxiety in knowing some of the darlings have probably risen out of the ground like zombies set to feast on the brain of my new story. Why is it always harder to slay these zombie darlings you knew so well? I know they need to go, but… But… But! *sigh* Thanks Kristen for keeping us honest. Now where’s that hatchet…

  35. #40 by Rosi on September 10, 2012 - 11:47 am

    Great reminders, Kristen. I’m going to sharpen my knives.

  36. #41 by patriciaddrury on September 10, 2012 - 12:15 pm

    Not writing a novel, have a dusty gathering of journals that I started to combine, and put it on a shelf for about 10 years… but got hooked on your title and found the whole story fascinating… foder? hmmmmmmmmmmmm…….

  37. #42 by Marianne on September 10, 2012 - 12:16 pm

    Time to get Stephen King´s book off the shelf again.

  38. #43 by Laura Ritchie on September 10, 2012 - 2:41 pm

    Thanks for breaking this down so well. Melodrama and Complexity vs. Drama and Conflict. Great way to test the relevance of a scene/character. The car wreck example really brings it home for me… implants what you’re saying in a way that makes soooo much sense.

    Your awesomeness just keeps a-going!!! :)

  39. #44 by Janet K. Brown on September 10, 2012 - 3:33 pm

    /great article. I believe this is 2 of the major hindrances to good gut-wrenching fiction.

  40. #45 by MegansBeadedDesigns on September 10, 2012 - 3:42 pm

    I definitely need to give On Writing another go-over… Thanks for the reminder!

  41. #46 by Jon Rieley-Goddard (@baldyblogger) on September 10, 2012 - 3:45 pm

    Good thoughts. I think that it takes another eye to see these problems clearly. Which does not absolve me from tryi9ng to do so, too.

  42. #47 by alicamckennajohnson on September 10, 2012 - 5:33 pm

    Just about to start level two of edits on Legacy of the Feathered Serpent- I shall get out my knife now :)

  43. #48 by Louise Behiel on September 10, 2012 - 5:39 pm

    good post, Alicia and lots to think about

  44. #49 by Louise Behiel on September 10, 2012 - 5:40 pm

    And of course I meant Kristen

  45. #50 by Cathy Biggerstaff on September 10, 2012 - 6:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing these tips with us newbies. Your examples were great and made understanding the concepts easier. Blessings on your work!

  46. #51 by The Meandering Matriarch on September 10, 2012 - 7:32 pm

    Great post, Kristin. And a timely reminder for many of us. Reminders are good because “knowing better doesn’t help” sometimes…

  47. #52 by Yvette Carol on September 10, 2012 - 8:21 pm

    Kristen, that post was awesome sauce, and good for a laugh too. I nearly sprayed my mouthful of tea, over the having ‘stock in Plot Bond-o’. Ha ha. :-)

    It used to be I couldn’t come up with a few sentences to describe my opus. However, here’s my admission; building my own website soon put paid to that, because I had to get every single aspect of my life’s work distilled and narrowed down into soundbites. Worked a treat!

    Now I can simply quote myself.
    Q: “What’s your book, The Lost Island, about?”
    A: “Aden Weaver thinks he’s an ordinary boy… until he’s attacked by an evil warlord. Chased beneath the Lost Island, he must save himself and his friends from being beheaded.”

    • #53 by Author Kristen Lamb on September 11, 2012 - 7:37 am

      Escaping something isn’t enough. The overall threat is still present. I would say Act III involves taking out warlord. That’s what heroes do. Heroes do more than just escape.

      • #54 by Yvette Carol on September 11, 2012 - 4:36 pm

        I agree. Does it work if the book is one of three, and the warlord gets taken out in the final book? I had to have my protag win smaller triumphs in the first two books, because if the main antag is dead then oops, tension over!

        • #55 by Author Kristen Lamb on September 11, 2012 - 6:08 pm

          Series require a different kind of plotting. You need a main Big Boss Trouble Maker (Sauron), but then each book needs a mini-BBT (the Uruk-Hai), (Sauroman). The BBT of each story generates the story problem that is solved and he/she/it gets taken out in the Big Boss Battle (Act III).

  48. #57 by sharonhughson on September 10, 2012 - 8:53 pm

    This is a very difficult thing for us novices to do. I don’t know if it’s because I’m “in love” with my words or characters as much as I’m just writing instead of thinking about how each piece contributes to the whole. I know you’re talking more about the revising process and I’m bad at cutting things period. After all, I sweated blood getting those words on the page, why would I want to cut them now?

    I’m saving your post for future reference (when I finish my WIP and am finally revising).

  49. #58 by Serena Dracis, Author on September 10, 2012 - 10:44 pm

    Still a baby writer here. I’ve at last come to fully embrace the phrase ‘done editing’ does not exist in my world. I just went through Part One of my novel…again. My choice, my agents were willing to submit as is, but a beta reader had some very thoughtful and insightful comments that made me go back through it. Yes, I killed little darlings, not a lot, true, but the delete button was used. It cost me a pang or two to get rid of a scene that I’d sculpted so carefully, to be so bone chilling…that did not a thing for the story itself. Great post, thank you, Kristen!

  50. #59 by catwoods on September 11, 2012 - 7:43 am

    Amazing post, Kristen!

    I recently slaughtered an entire chapter of some of my best character interaction. But, it was unnecessary in the long rung. Made me very sad, but my manuscript much stronger.

    Thankfully, I don’t have a pet cemetary. My delete key is my friend, and I have no problem with cutting virtually anything that doesn’t keep my story on track.

    Thanks for the great reminder this morning.

  51. #60 by KM Huber on September 11, 2012 - 10:06 am

    While every one of your blog posts is revelatory, these past two weeks each post seems to outdo the previous. Simply stellar, Kristen.

    In this post, your example of melodrama versus drama is so clear that it keeps me company as I write scene by scene. And as I am prone to cleverness over conflict, now I have an image that clarifies my “cleverness” rather readily. These concrete examples that you provide in your blog posts are so instructive and thoughtful. Truly, thank you.

    Karen

  52. #61 by Jean Oram on September 11, 2012 - 10:12 am

    I keep telling myself that those darlings I’ve been hacking could possibly become ‘bonus’ or ‘cutting room floor’ extras for future readers.

    And your comment on conflict… uh. Crap! I need to go make sure I still have that in all the drama and melodrama. I mean, um drama. I cut the melodrama. Crap! I need to go look at that too. (Kidding on the second one. I think.)

    Thanks. :)

  53. #62 by Leesa Freeman on September 11, 2012 - 10:58 am

    Wonderful post that really got me thinking! So much it inspired a blog post of my own…

  54. #63 by Kate on September 11, 2012 - 11:17 am

    I was fortunate to have gone through an internship to work at my university’s writing center. A large part of our training was to ask what a sentence/paragraph is *doing* for the paper, and so I have that as a habit now in my own writing. If a scene or a sentence isn’t contributing, or confuses the reader in the case of complexity, then it’s gotta go.

  55. #64 by Joe Cronley on September 11, 2012 - 12:09 pm

    I honestly had never heard of Stephen King’s “On Writing.” Had it come from anywhere else, I may have dismissed the suggestion. Why should I read him? He’s the Thomas Kinkade of literature! As I’d like to one day be paid for my work, I should remember that Thomas Kinkade made a lot more money than that really talented bartender whose gallery opening I went to. I may think Thomas Kinkade’s art, and Stephen King’s writing, is trite, formulaic, derivative and geared to the lowest common denominator of consumer. But, I can take a lesson from the fact that they both learned to connect with people who appreciate what they do.

  56. #65 by Candilynn Fite (@Candilynnfite) on September 11, 2012 - 2:55 pm

    Love King’s book. Read it in one night, cover to cover. Feeling quite terrible about my writing lately. Maybe I need to go back and read On Writing again. Thanks for the great post. I needed my WANA Mama fix today. :)

  57. #66 by Lily Bishop on September 11, 2012 - 3:52 pm

    I enjoyed this. Interesting. It’s a struggle between trusting your instincts that a scene is good and overprotecting it from the red pencil or the delete button.

  58. #67 by Lily Bishop on September 11, 2012 - 3:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Don't Call Me Sugar and commented:
    This post is a great take of the adage “Kill your darlings”. I am about to purchase her book on writers and social media — We Are Not Alone.

  59. #68 by Tamara LeBlanc on September 11, 2012 - 4:06 pm

    Late, but love this lesson. Thank you!
    I used to have trouble killing my little darlings, but as I’ve grown as an author, it gets easier and easier. If they gotta go, they gotta go!
    Have a great evening!
    Tamara

  60. #69 by patriciaddrury on September 11, 2012 - 4:59 pm

    Love your work and nominated you for One Lovely Blog award, I totally understand if you don’t want to ‘do’ all the stuff involved. I just wanted to let you know! :-)

  61. #70 by Patricia Eddy on September 11, 2012 - 6:31 pm

    My first novel (that’s 80% done) suffers from #2. Which is why I’ve moved on to novel #2 that has a much clearer plot and I *think* at least suffers much less from these pitfalls. I need to go back to novel #1, but I’m too close to it. I’m hopeful that moving on for a time, and doing something that I hope is significantly better due to the learning curve I suffered through over the past eight months, will pay off. Great post.

  62. #71 by Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg) on September 11, 2012 - 6:32 pm

    Very sage advice. I loved “On Writing”, and agree. (Note: I almost used an adverb after agree, ‘completely’, but deleted is, as using an adverb is frowned upon in polite society)

    Your point, “That is how good characterization makes the difference.” is right on the mark. I just finished reading, Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”, and when I got to the end (spoiler alert), and the leading lady died giving birth, I thought, “Good, I didn’t like her anyway.” I realize using a writer as poor as Hemingway, is a bad example, but it is what came to mind. Still, if he can be a success with the dreck he churned out, then there is hope for us all.

  63. #72 by nancyelizabethlauzon on September 12, 2012 - 9:36 am

    Killing my little darlings was the single biggest lesson I learned about writing, and I think that’s when I ‘graduated’ from a beginner to a pro. Thanks for a great post =)

  64. #73 by Julie on September 13, 2012 - 7:59 am

    I need to make a 3×5 card with to tape to the top of my computer:
    ‘Kill the Little Darlings’
    It’s ok, Stevie and Kirsten Told me to”. ;)

  65. #74 by Vicki Orians on September 13, 2012 - 11:01 am

    This is a great post! For a long time, I struggled with knowing what was really going on in my story. I’m a plot-driven writer, so I overshadowed the need for my readers to connect with my MC with all the twists and turns. It’s been a long revision process with a lot of starting over, but after five drafts (I’m working on the 6th), I feel like I’m finally getting it right. :-)

  66. #75 by Rick Marchetti on September 14, 2012 - 9:39 am

    Great information. I would guess that most of us have this problem with our “little darlings”. I’ve killed off some, but I’m sure there are some “lurkers” I haven’t done in yet.

  67. #76 by Cordelia Dinsmore on September 14, 2012 - 11:13 am

    Ouch! I think you explained very well my biggest weakness – complexity. But then again, it may be the melodrama. Lots of good information here to think about and attempt to put into practice. Thank you so much.

  68. #77 by Patricia Winton on September 15, 2012 - 7:20 am

    I bought a copy of We Are Not Alone last year at Killer Nashville. I think it’s a sensible, well thought out book, and I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t followed through with your great suggestions.

  69. #78 by katmagendie on September 15, 2012 - 6:10 pm

    I rip out when I see I’m trying to be “clever” and let the blood and guts fly . . .

  70. #79 by Autumn Markus on October 2, 2012 - 6:52 pm

    I learned that when my explanation of why the section/character/plotline my editor wants me to cut out gets too complex and I get self-righteous, she’s right and I’m wrong. End of story. When it really counts, I can explain simply and there’s no inclination to get whiny. It was a hard lesson, and I’m so glad she didn’t give up on me (thanks, CJ).

  71. #80 by Cassie on January 6, 2013 - 11:49 am

    You write in such a witty way, I loved reading this advice. Plus, I completely agree with the side rant about King.

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