Kill Your Darlings, or Let Others Kill Them For You

DebE —  November 30, 2012 — 2 Comments

I wrote this article for last month’s “Coffee Shop for the Fantasy Society” Newsletter (aka “Dragon Scroll”) and just thought I’d put it up here, just in case it turns out to be helpful to anyone. Perhaps it will strike up a discussion, who knows?

Here goes…

* * *

So. You’ve finally finished that manuscript. You’ve worked on it long and hard hours. You’ve studied the craft of writing a novel and applied it every which way to your amazing story. You’ve developed amazing characters that everyone will love … Well, maybe not everyone. Let’s be real here. This is real life. Everyone is different. Not everyone is going to like what you’ve written. But a good many will if you do have that great story and wonderful characters. How do you create those? Well, I can’t tell you that. There is a huge range of advice out there. But I still think there is a certain je ne c’est que about the characters I have totally fallen in love with.

But back to that manuscript. Are you going to send it out to agents? Unsolicited to publishers? Or are you going to self-publish? Self-publishing? Great. Self-pubbing is really taking off. And you can keep more of the profits, and you actually get to pick your own cover design … There are a lot of plusses to going it “alone” (although, there is a HUGE writing community out there, so none of us is alone). But, before you go out there and do all this, I just want to say one thing: STOP!

Run it by an editor. Seriously.

Yes, I know, Twilight wasn’t awesomely written and it sold millions. The first Sookie Stackhouse book (at least) is very poor quality, and look at it now … very popular TV show (but, the TV show is written by others … and no one’s judging them for how they spell or use adjectives), and, yes, then there’s good ol’ Fifty Shades …. Yes. it’s true. Poorly edited work can sell. Poorly edited work can be held up as amazing writing, even (not mentioning names this time around).

But what do you really want you and your work to be remembered for? Do you want to be remembered for great characters and a great story? Yes? [hand to ear] … I think I heard quiet agreement there. Yeah. Me too. I want my story to be remembered. I want my characters to be remembered. Sure, I don’t mind if someone highlights something on their Kindle/Kindle App/Other… and makes a note “Great line”, or “Awesome dialogue” (am I the only one?). What I don’t want is to be remembered for slow moving prose, filled to overflowing with adverbs, writing techniques that keep throwing the reader out of the story and reminding them they are reading, not in my world, or, heaven forbid, confusing my readers.

And as the writer, you can’t tell these things. I’m telling you that now. When you wrote that awesome chase scene, you saw it all happen, and you wrote it down. But how do you know if someone reading it sees, hears and smells what you experienced? Well, for that you need, at the very least, beta readers.

But this item is running away on me a bit here. And I have one other endorsement to make: seriously consider having a professional editor look at your work. Yes, they’re expensive. But they are worth it (and in this day and age of crowd-funding … no excuses!). Especially when it comes to that “Kill your darlings” bit. Your editor isn’t so attached. They can see what really is chaff.

I’m currently going through edits for Healer’s Touch [actually finished edits by the time I’m posting this to the blog… on to final proofread] (I chose to submit my work to a small publisher, rather than go it alone, but that will be another article), and yes, it’s tough. Some of those lines I’m thinking “But that really shows the character!”. But, you know what? The character is still there without my nit-picky stage direction. My editor could see that. I couldn’t. A couple of lines I’ve gone back to my editor and said “Can’t we keep that one?” and he’s either agreed, or suggested an altered version. And he pushed me to re-write a couple of fight scenes, and they are so much better.

Critique partners are grand, but they are also focussed on their own work. Beta readers are wonderful, and indispensible, but they don’t necessarily know where each and every comma should be, and they might also be forgiving of your chatty style. A professional editor won’t be. It may be hard at first, but if you realise that they’re there to help, they’re there to strengthen your writing, then you really can handle it. But don’t be a doormat, either. If that line really matters to you, say so. It’s about team work. And ultimately, it’s your story.

So put your MS’s best foot forward. Make it shine. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

* * *

So, what do you think? I don’t want to discount the value of critique partners and beta readers – there is no doubt we need them all. But working with an editor has been the single most valuable thing I have done in my writing “career” (such as it is), so yes, I am spouting gospel about something I only have minimal experience with. Meh.

And on that note, feel free to tell me YOUR most valuable experience when it comes to writing…

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DebE

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Deb E was born in New Zealand’s North Island, but her parents corrected that within months, moving south to Dunedin and staying there. Childhood nights were spent falling asleep to cover versions of Cliff Richard and the Shadows and other Rock ’n Roll classics played by her father’s band, and days were spent dancing to 45 LPs. Many of her first writing experiences were copying down song lyrics. She graduated to scientific reports when she studied a nematophagus fungus in the Zoology department of the University of Otago, trading all traces of popularity for usefulness… then traded both for fiction. Mum of one human & four fur-babies.

2 responses to Kill Your Darlings, or Let Others Kill Them For You

  1. 

    Some great advice. I believe it is just the individual writer’s willingness to hold themself to a higher standard. I wouldn’t want my name associated with a bad novel. It seems like common sense to put the best possible product out there. It may take a little longer, but at the end of the day I’ll be happy with where I am and the higher standard I hold myself to. Hopefully my future readers will like it too.

    I think it’s important to make sure you have a credible editor though. I’ve worked with a “freelance editor” who I thought was something more than they actually were. You live and you learn. Do your homework, and then double check. Don’t get suckered.

    Great post. Hopefully other writers will listen.

    • 

      Hey, thanks for stopping by. I enjoy your blog posts, too, by the way.
      On that note of finding a professional editor, I’d like to put in a plug for thecanaryreview.com, who not only do book reviews but offer a comprehensive editing service. They did a sample chapter for me and, if I hadn’t signed with a publisher, I would have chosen to work with them (I would have had to beg and plead people to give me money to be able to afford it, but I would have done it). I liked their work.
      Anyway, back to the comment at hand… (o: I can accept that in 10 years time (I hope) I will be writing better than I am now. But, if people like what I’m writing then, they’re going to want to pick up what I’ve already released, if they haven’t already. Sure, they might say to themselves “Oh, well, I suppose it was her *first* novel”… But, yeah… Something about accepting that “Yeah, but it’s my first” excuse doesn’t sit right with me. That’s not to say I have total confidence in “Healer’s Touch”, either… my publisher can attest to my pestering them for re-assurances that the book really will meet the world with my best interests in mind… Oh well, they’ll make it look pretty with a nice cover, anyway… (o:
      Do your best. Learn what it takes to put a good story together. Learn what it takes to really draw your reader in and let them forget they’re reading your book. Learn how to spell and as much as you can about grammar (English grammar is an uphill learning curve).
      And who benefits? Readers! Because they’ll never be stuck battling through a crappy story, or feeling that horrible niggle when they decide to give up on a book (I often wonder… was it just about to suddenly get better?) And all writers! Because readers learn to have faith in us. But if they get burned too often….

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