Friday, March 16, 2007

Murdering my Little Darlings

I'm sure many of you are familiar with what the topic of this post actually means. It's a reference to an article I read on by James Patrick Kelly. He's not the first person to make the reference; he merely expanded on the sentiment that has been given by authors for years on the craft of writing. An author has a tendency to fall in love with his or her words, but special attention should be given to revising and "murdering your little darlings".

Basically, what this means is, after you've written a work and had an opportunity to step back from it for a while, it's sometimes helpful to go re-visit it and THEN start making cuts. With growing experience, you will find ways to make the work stronger. In fact, the article gives several examples of things to watch out for that I've found I'm definitely guilty of. Overuse of adverbs and adjectives, overdramatization, unnecessary characters, that sort of thing.

I finished the revisions for my first novel back in January. It's been a month and a half, and I suddenly had the urge to go back and re-visit it for several reasons. One is, I'm obsessed with what my agent has told me about length and word count. Of the publishers who chose not to look at my work after the synopsis and query were sent, a couple specifically said it was because the book was too long for the target market.

So I opened up the file and started reading through it. I already had some ideas for places where it could be trimmed. My opening chapters are rather long, introducing the two main characters and getting to know them. But with the experience I got writing my second novel, I learned how to introduce characters better, get to know them with fewer words, scenes, or drawn-out explanations. The opening took place over three chapters before the fantasy elements of the story even started to develop. So I moved some things around, made some cuts, and changed the opening from taking place over two days to all happening in one. It may take some further tweaking, but with the re-arranging of a few events and the paring down, I believe I've been able to introduce the characters just as strongly, and it all takes place in one chapter. By chapter two, the fantasy elements are beginning to come to the fore. And I cut over five thousand words!

I feel that I can continue this through the rest of the novel. There are several other places in which I have been a tad wordy when it wasn't necessary. There are a few places where scenes can be combined, or possibly just gotten rid of. This is something that I was not able to see when I revised before. And I wouldn't be able to see it now if not for the experience of writing my second novel. I don't really know if it's something I should be doing or not; my agent is already happy with the first novel, and she does have it in some big-name hands right now. But I'm a writer, and typical of writers, I always feel that I can make it better if I just change this word, or that word, and murder my little darlings.

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