Can killing your darlings improve your book?

February 6, 2016 hollie8985 Writing Adventures

I’ve heard this phrase for years and always, wrongly, presumed it referred to characters. Any part of our books we’re attached to are our darlings, a cleverly worded comment, a magical paragraph or even a full scene.

In the last few days, I’ve been looking at all the unpublished contests being run by various RWA chapters. Tahra and Wyn don’t meet until the end of the first scene, which caused a bit of a problem for me when it comes to entering romance contests with a set word or page count.


The solution is clearly to make hero and heroine meet sooner, the excitement starts earlier and so on. But they still need to meet at the end of the first scene, without it there is no reason for Tahra to be there to meet Wyn.

That left me only one option, cutting the first scene down to what is needed and moving anything that can be to later in the story. What I found when I was doing this was somewhat amazing.

Looking at each paragraph, I asked myself, what does this tell us and do we need to know this now? I was honestly surprised how many times I didn’t get to the second question because they gave nothing. No back story, no description, nothing useful at all, except frill and fancy and lovely little exchanges between Wyn and some of the pack pups, none of which are needed, cute but unnecessary.

Now I’m not saying we should change our stories to fit what we think will win a contest. What I am saying is think about what the judges are looking for, ultimately¬†they are also readers. If you don’t think a judge will like something, why would a reader. I didn’t think the judges would like reading a long first scene before hero and heroine meet. I hadn’t thought about if readers would like it or not.

I think that is where a lot of newer authors go wrong, we don’t¬†think about what the reader wants. Even as readers ourselves, we concentrate on writing in a way we’ve never done before and forget to consider the expertise we already have.

So now I’m going to add ‘contest consideration’ to my editing routine. Linking it with a sweep for those extra ‘garbage’ words we use today will go a long way to tightening and reducing any excess wordcounts.



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