1. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    How to murder our darlings ?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Than_urb, Jan 23, 2020.

    Hi guys,

    I am a newbie on this forum but not on writing as I finished my first novel (and read a lot on writing).
    So, I got feedbacks from relatives and already started the editing process.

    As Arthur Quiller-Couch stated well, we have to murder our darlings.
    And I know I have to cut like A LOT (you know basic first novel problem...).

    So, my question is simple : how to get that mindset ?

    I mean, deleting adverbs, repetitive sentences or non-important ones is (somehow) easy, but paragraphs, scenes or whole chapters... that's kind of a pain in the ass for me !

    To provide you a concrete example: my initial situation is too long and too slow (around 60 over 240 pages).
    Of course, I have the "Is it important for the plot" question in mind but I'm afraid it's not enough for me.

    So guys, thank you very much for any clues or ideas,



    PS: sorry for my english level, it's not my native language (I'm french btw)
     
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  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    One thing you can do is go back and re-read like a reader and not a writer (to the extent that's possible; I think you can refocus your mind to do it). You might even read the work out loud, which will not only help catch small errors like typos, sentence structure/wording, etc., but can establish a rhythm or flow for the story. That can help you figure out which paragraphs or scenes are interrupting or hampering the flow.

    In any event--it's easier said than done. That's how I go about it, but others may have methods that work best for them.
     
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  3. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    When you go back and re-read your story, you have to be very critical of every part of the story. If it doesn't fit, if it doesn't advance the plot, if it gets in the way of the tone or the rhythm of the story, it has to go. Sometimes you can change it. Sometimes it just has to be excised for the good of the story. Absolutely everything has to serve the story in some way. Anything that does not, it needs to die.
     
  4. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    Does that mean you adopt a reader pov, like you are reading ? Because every time I tried, I stopped on any typos, missformulated sentences... and therefore I am more editing than reading.


    Yeah, I heard that before but where is the limit ? I mean if you put some sentences to share character thoughts for example, is it not necessary to the plot, just to understand the latter (and so why keeping or deleting it ?)
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Yes. It took me a while to be able to do it. I try to do it when I am critiquing work for others as well. I get out of the writer/editor mindset and try to approach the work purely as a reader. For me, at least, that gets me into a different flow while I'm reading and makes it easier to spot issues relating to that.
     
  6. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    Yeah I see what you mean, I definitely gonna try (but sounds easier than done).
     
  7. Aaron Smith

    Aaron Smith Banned Contributor

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    Take them out into the deep dark woods and stare into their eyes as their last screams echo off the canopies.
     
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  8. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    Apart from relatives, why don't you try sending your work to other people you trust for an alpha read and pose them that question after they're done? It's good to have another set of eyes to review for you. The more the better. In order to review your own work as a reader, let it sit for a while. The more your mind rests and forgets about your story, the more objective and clear-headed you'll be when you are re-editing. Mistakes and certain draggy elements will pop up more intensely then. In the meantime, you can start plotting a new story or idk... play a game or something.
     
  9. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Senior Member

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    Friends and relatives are some of the worst people you can get feedback from. They are the people who will not want to offend you, and what you need is honest, critical feedback.
     
  10. GrahamLewis

    GrahamLewis That thumbnail has to go. Contributor

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    One thing I do is take an extra-careful look at anything I wrote that, at the time I wrote, struck me as extra-clever or otherwise very good. In my experience, those words are either cliched or not nearly so good as I thought at first.
     
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  11. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Set it aside so it's not so precious. There are two ways your writing becomes too precious a. you're still in the mind-frame of it's perfect! I couldn't have wrote it better and b. you're assigning preciousness to it because of the time you put into it. Giving yourself some distance before you edit really helps.
    Read it out loud. Nothing reveals a flaw better than stumbling over your own prose.
    Ask yourself three questions cause for me darlings can stay if they work, add beauty and or reveal character. If they don't fulfill at least one of these then they can be clipped.
    Not every item in your story has to fuel the plot. But at the very least it should reveal character. There's this wonderful moment in the movie You Can't Take it With You where Alice gives her grandfather a new harmonica even though it's not his birthday and she says anytime I see something and I want to buy it for you - that's your birthday - it reveals Alice's nature and their relationship but it really doesn't fuel the plot.
     
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  12. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    If it helps the reader to understand some aspect of the character that is meaningful to the story, then it's fine. If it's just meaningless fluff that will never come up again, it isn't.
     
  13. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    Plus the fact, they may not be conversant in your particular genre. The only family member that reads my stuff is my wife and she's an author as well. Otherwise, it's all external readers that I can trust.
     
  14. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    I definitely will !

    Well said. I gonna keep that on mind.

    It looks really accurate. Gonna write it on my blackboard and try my best to delete all the things that don't match any of those categories. Thanks !

    Yeah some of my friends said so (one is into fantasy and my novel is about real life...). But I deeply think that a good book should be in some way universal (Harry potter, Lord of the rings, Star wars, GoT...). But indeed, it will be really pretentious to pretend to achieve that goal (but I still use it as a guideline ^^)


    And thank to all of you, cause this talk help me a lot to get different perspectives about that specific problem.
     
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  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    It was Samuel Pepys who said that first "If you find a piece of writing you consider especially fine cut it ruthlessly" Its not always true of course but ive lost count of the number of times I've written something that i thought was brilliant which hasn't made it into the final book.

    My 'favorite' (cringe) being the time i wrote from the 1st PoV of Dusty Miller that his life as a mercenary had been a combination of "The cold gut chilling fear before an assault, and the wild hot joy of being alive afterwards" Only to discover later that it was a direct lift from Frederick Forsyth's the Dogs of War (which i hadn't read for about fifteen years at the time)... it must have lodged in my subconcious only to tumble out as 'my writing' years later...
     
  16. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    I have the same thoughts and experiences about it but there is still something I am perplexed about. If we have to cut our favorite sentences and parts... we end up with a book full of quotes we don't really like. I mean some are just blind loved ones but others should be actually beautiful right ? Otherwise, writing is (in some way) pointless.

    Or maybe it is just to difficult for me to handle the razor...
     
  17. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Its not a rule to take literally - you don't have to delete everything you think is good, that would be self defeating. What Pepys was saying was that when we consider parts of our writing 'especially fine' we may be blinkered by hubris - the sin of pride, and we should give objective thought to whether that clever line we're so proud of is realy that clever... does it move the story/characterisation/setting etc or did we just put it in to be clever ?

    If it does add to the book leave it in, but don't leave it in solely because we are proud of having written it.

    Illustrative story i once wrote what i'd consider a really good scene and a really good character when I was writing mt second book Darkest Storm... and the writing was good, the character was well constructed, i was justifiably proud of the whole thing.

    However neither the scene nor the character made it into the final copy of Darkest Storm.

    that said because they were good, they wound up at the opening scene and pivotal character of my novella Honest Intent instead
     
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  18. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    Goose, that is really interesting. I think I am starting to understand something here.
    Just a quick question: what were the reasons that explain you cut it from Darkest Storm (as it was good and well constructed) ?
     
  19. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's not my place to answer for Moose, but I'm going to guess that, well-constructed or not, it didn't end up fitting the overall story.

    For me, whether I take a suspect darling out back to the chopping block or not depends on two broad concepts.

    Fit

    Does the suspect text fit with the rest of the text in tone, color, and style, or is it standing out overmuch like a gem in otherwise plain, unassuming matrix? The issue with this kind of darling is not intrinsic to either the darling or its surrounding matrix; it's in the mismatch, in the way the glitter and sparkle of the gem only serves to highlight the lackluster company in which it finds itself. It's unbalanced and herky jerky to read.​


    Function

    Does the suspect text actually do what you think or want it to do? You may have crafted it with near-pathologic care, but if it doesn't serve, it doesn't serve. A few examples of my own:​

    Words -

    In one little story I wrote long ago, I was cautioned by readers not to use the word brachiate, which had made its way into the story as a way to describe the particular form of locomotion of a creature. Brachiate is a term with which I am quite familiar having studied primatology at one point. It perfectly describes the creature's movement. But the word is rather esoteric and rarified and the average Joe is going to be left out in the rain by this word that only carries meaning for a select few. No matter how technically perfect the word is, it alienates the reader by being too high of a register for the kind of story wherein it found itself.

    In another story, I spent hours looking for the name of a particular kind of ornate ceiling. I found the word, but in truth the entire word-quest was pointless because it was little more than narrative intrusion on my part. There was no reason for the POV character to know that word, so it had no business in his dialogue or even his narrative, and in the scene where the word would have appeared, it was as he crossed through the entry hall for the grand home, a place he had crossed millions of times, a place as familiar to him as the back of his hand, a place he would not be observing with the eye of someone who had never been there before, amazed at the grandeur, overcome with the splendour. It was a house he hated, so if anything, he should hate that ceiling and if any description is made at all, it should describe it in terms that denote his wish to leave, not his intrigue at the woodwork.

    If you ever find yourself on a word-quest and discover that perfect, perfect little word, all dusty and baroque within the pages of a dictionary, much as I too love such dusty little words, my advice is to leave it there because huge swaths of any dictionary for any language are in fact graveyards for dead words that no longer carry any meaning for anyone at any time. Get thee to the living and leave the dead alone.​

    Characters -

    In a different story, I created a character named Amila. She was to serve a particular ancillary role in the story, and she came to me fully formed and so lovely. I was very invested in her character. I liked her, personally. She was charming in a simple country way that I appreciate. She was also an utterly unworkable character because, much as I loved her, when I panned the narrative camera back into a wider shot, it was painfully clear that she didn't function where I put her. She was the housekeeper in a large country manor style home and she was as simple and innocent as a leaf. The very severe Lady of the House would never have hired or promoted such a person to housekeeper. I had to recast her as a much savvier, sharper, shrewder person, someone who actually fit the role.

    So, I guess my 2p is that darlings are not objective things that are easy to point at the way one can say that this is a verb and that is a noun and this other thing is an adjective. They must be regarded in context and with respect to what's going on around them.

    How to kill them is simple enough - remove or replace. How to identify them, there's the trick.​
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2020
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  20. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    That - in essence as the story developed it became clear that I didn't need two female MCs, and the one introduced in the opening scenes got axed... she is now instead the FMC of honest intent, and also several other books
     
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  21. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    Never. I am writing real life based novel, using short sentences and direct writing style. Therefore my quests stop each time to the synonyms list (I hated too many novels with technical/too sophisticated words).

    It's funny because I have the same problem but with a different output... While rereading my novel, I realised I felt in love with the girlfriend and the girl bestfriend (which are main characters) therefore there are too smooth and beautiful and awesome... So I have to destroy those images. The first one will be insecure and the second kind of naive (and a little self-oriented).

    Yeah, it's really hard to guess if it is valuable enough or not.
     
  22. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    Okay I got it. You can only link the dots backward not forward. Therefore if you map your story (after writing it) you can easily spot the unnecessary flowers.
    I should write a clear storyboard before starting the cut (as I am more a gardener than a architect, I have only a general mental overview).
     
  23. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The big trick for me was distance, which is akin to what @peachalulu said, about 'precious.' If you can leave it alone for a long time—long enough to forget having written it—then you'll see the flaws really easily. Obviously you know you wrote the thing, but wait till you forget what compelled you to write it 'that way.'

    It made a huge difference to me. Not only did I spot the flaws, but they were no longer my darlings. They were an embarrassment, and I was delighted to get rid of them.

    Of course you should always keep previous versions just in CASE you might want to restore something. And yes, I did that in a couple of cases (usually moving the erstwhile darling someplace else where it fit better) but most of them have never been revisited. But saving your deletions makes it easier to delete, because you know you haven't actually lost anything.

    Distance. Time. I think that's the best answer to your question. You can work on something else in the interim.
     
  24. Than_urb

    Than_urb Member

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    It sounds like you are trying to forget your ex girlfriend ! Take distance until she is no longer your darling (but that's a golden piece of advice btw).
     
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  25. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Good. That was a significant part of the genius behind Arthur C. Clarke's work. He penned some of the very best Golden Age Science Fiction and did so in a way that very rarely makes even the most pedestrian of readers reach for a dictionary. Again, while I do enjoy the artistry in wordsmithing, the way Clarke restricted himself to only the most basic of blocks with which to construct the most lavish and fascinating of journeys is an art in and of itself.
     

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