Facing Down Darlings

One of the greatest internal climbs for many writers is to embrace the editing process. Drafting, after all is raw inspiration, pure and unspoiled. You produce a virgin draft, your baby. How could you ever *gasp* alter it. Editing, on the other hand, even sounds barbarian. All that chopping, cutting, and despoiling what is virtually divine.

Caught in the above viewpoints, some writers spend years completing countless drafts before relenting. Wavering, they rationalize that maybe, just maybe, only some of the story is sacred.

Thus are darlings born, those most treasured scenes you refuse to delete.

I might exaggerate a little, but I’ve been in groups where similar arguments are made. It’s a shame, because editing is the true magic. Still, I sympathize. Like everyone else, I had to learn to face down my darlings.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

And mine still breed like unescorted bunnies.

In Book1, Trust in the Forgotten, there was a lengthy scene near the end (the reason I can’t give too many details). It was spectacular, epic—and pointless. My most common weakness is for scenes possessing strong visuals in my head. They’re tougher to let go.

In my mind it was beautiful, but I’d become bored reading it and it pulled the pacing to a dead stop. My initial fix (always a bad sign) was to add to it, which made it dull and convoluted. More fixes followed and it became worse. It dragged when the story needed to zing and it dragged because it added nothing to plot or character.

Painful as it was, I axed it. Well over 1,500 words went away. When I read what was left it worked by every measure. What a reward!

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

In Book 2, A River in Each Hand, which I drafted last month, there’s a scene where the protagonist has a confrontation with a gryphon and its rider. It’s crucial to the story. In this instance the scene wasn’t the problem, but the location. I had this great visual where she’s on the roof of an ancient tower at the time. It sounded great, but when I reached the scene my editing gut started screaming warnings.

There was no reason for her to be atop the tower given the location and circumstances. None.

Yet again, this time on the fly, I added rationalizations to save my precious visual. It started with another scene inserted where a mountain of dialog is supposed to justify the tower’s ascent. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I inserted a pointless scene where she’s climbing to the roof.

After the month ended I went back and looked at the sequence of scenes while writing an initial self-critique. Without question, virtually all of it will go. At least 1,500 words of needless storytelling. In fact, the long, dull buildup ends up making the important scene anti-climatic because the reader is out of the story before it happens.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

I wanted to pass this along for those wrestling with similar circumstances. Think of your darlings like spoiled milk. You recall with fondness the day you bought it. Still, the stink is nauseating. Pushing it to the back of the fridge is avoidance. Adding unspoiled milk to it ruins the new. Dressing it up with chocolate rationalizations doesn’t remove the gut-churning stench. It needs to go.

One Reply to “Facing Down Darlings”

  1. Pingback: Facing Down Darlings | Christina Anne Hawthorne

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