Stephen King’s book On Writing contains, among other helpful pieces of advice, this gem: Kill your darlings.* Sounds very King-esque, right? What he means is that you need to chop out scenes or sentences or paragraphs that you are especially proud of but that don’t advance the plot or help the book in any way.
It could be a particularly evocative or cleverly phrased description, or a bit of backstory or exposition that slows your pace or contains information not crucial to the story. In earlier drafts of Hunter’s Moon, I had written some scenes from the “bad guy’s” point of view that my editor told me to cut because they gave away too much. (That’s one way to shorten a long book!) The vital-to-the-plot information those scenes contained, I had to find a way to sneak into other scenes, and I replaced some villain scenes with good-guy or neutral-character POV scenes.
Still, although I have learned to trust my editor (she is amazing!), I usually find it incredibly hard to kill my darlings. I love my little pets, and I want to stroke them, pet them, massage them . . . anyone getting the Tommy Boy reference? ;) But you have to take those naughty pets and rip them up! Your editor says chop them, and you sit there scowling at her note in the margin, and you mentally argue with it, and you’re in denial and then anger and then bargaining and the other stages of grief. You know, deep down, that your darling is already deceased. The dreaded knell has sounded. And now you have to bury that little pet in a separate document for deleted scenes.
You keep one of those, don’t you? You don’t just cut those darlings from your manuscript without saving them somewhere? Well, I do because I’m a pretty nostalgic person.^
I have a document for each of my novels, containing “darlings to resurrect.” I will try and sneak these paragraphs or scenes or descriptions back into the story somewhere else if I can. I’m almost never able to, but with Hunter’s Moon I did pull off one significant resurrection—editor-approved! It’s the scene with Erickson in the diner, talking to Joelle the waitress. Its earlier manifestation got cut, as it wasn’t too relevant to the plot. But later I found a way to make it fit in and work! Now it provides a character with motivation to make a choice, instead of just listening in on his thoughts.
For funsies, here’s a little (non-spoilerish) snippet that wasn’t able to be worked back into Hunter's Moon:
[from chapter 1, showing the girls camping before their night hike]
The sun had sunk below the tops of the trees by the time the girls finished their dinner of hot dogs, chips, and lemonade. Mel and Pam lingered on the picnic table bench, gazing at the peaceful scenery and enjoying the feel of wind brushing their faces.
“Look,” Mel said in a low voice, pointing to the edge of the woods. A raccoon slinked out of the underbrush. It loped over to the rusty trash can at the empty site next to theirs, stood on its hind paws, and sniffed. Then it scratched and scrabbled its way up the can and dove inside. A hollow, metallic thump rang out when it landed—the can must not have been very full. Mel couldn’t help but grin at the cute critter’s antics. “Better luck elsewhere, little buddy.”
The family across the circle had retired into its camper, and the RV remained a silent monolith, dark against the darker woods. Even as Mel wondered about its occupant, she gave a contented sigh and said, “It’s so nice out here.”
“Mm-hmm. The air is so fresh.” Pam drew in a deep breath. “I love the scent of pine.”
Somewhere nearby, a cricket began to chirp. “Whoa,” said Mel, “they’re not that loud back on campus.”
“Yeah, thank goodness. It’s hard enough for me to get any rest when you keep talking in your sleep,” Pam said. She snickered.
“Do I really do that?” Melanie put her hands on her hips. “You always tease me about it, but—”
“Oh, you do. Almost every night. And you say all kinds of strange stuff, like ‘Where did you put my potato?’ One time you laughed—it kind of freaked me out.”
Mel couldn’t help but giggle, even as heat crept into her cheeks. “At least I don’t snore.”
* Apologies if this post's title is triggering. I can empathize: My baby brother died when I was 14. As if adolescence wasn’t already torturous enough, and then that happened, throwing my mom into the deepest pit of depression for years right when I needed her the most. She went to a professional counselor for about a decade, and fortunately the tragedy didn’t rip our family apart but brought us closer together.
^ I also still have in my file cabinet the series of (very short) books I “published” when I was about 8. I wrote them in marker (a different color for each book, in rainbow order—skipping yellow) on 8.5x11” pages folded in half and stapled together. (No, I will not be showing those in this blog! ;-P )