Killing Your Darlings

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Recently I had the opportunity to have the first three chapters of my middle grade novel critiqued. Yes! Madeline Dyer is a published novelist and top notch writing instructor so I quickly polished my chapters and sent them on their way.

When I got her comments back, I skimmed through them quietly doing a happy dance. It had to be quiet. My husband (we share an office) was on a conference call. She liked my characterization. I’d done a good job with setting. Happy Happy Dance!

Then I got to almost an entire page that she had highlighted. Uh oh. Somehow that felt ominous and that premonition wasn’t wrong. “The pacing feels slow and this needs to be condensed.” I’m paraphrasing because . . . ouch!

I had gone through the trouble to invent a board game for my characters to play. My point-of-view character loathes it but it is her little brother’s favorite. I knew I spent a lot of time describing it but I reasoned that that was okay. Yes, the reader might think it was all a bit s-l-o-w but so does my character.

Madeline wasn’t having it. She didn’t ask if I invented it. She didn’t note how clever it was. She simply told me to tighten things up and get the story moving. “Your character doesn’t even like the game! Don’t spend so much time on it.”

Blah. The problem is that I can see her point. And, really? I had all but walked up on it myself. It is okay for the reader to be a little bored because so is my character. Um, no. No, it isn’t.

But I invented a whole game!

Too bad, so sad. So many fewer words need to be devoted to my darling game.

When I read about people having to cut their darlings, I’m usually reading about a particular phrase or description that just has to go. But really, it can be anything that doesn’t function well in your story. It could be needlessly complex details about your setting. It could be a lengthy flash back that slows down the action. It could be a monologue delivered by your antagonist.

It doesn’t matter how long you spent on it. If it doesn’t work, it needs to go. Bye-bye my darling!

–SueBE