Let’s Murder Some Darlings, Darling

 

We all have precious darlings. Sometimes those beloved phrases or oh-so-eloquent descriptions that we’re absolutely certain make a story fabulous, really just need to be cut out with a  scalpel. While an editor or good friend may mention them before they get to the printing point of no return, there’s no guarantee that we’ll listen. After all, they’re called “darlings” for a reason.

Right now I’m editing two novels–not quite simultaneously, but at least sequentially, with only a few days in between. (I’m no role model for workflow, obviously.) So I have more than one editor on the line talking to me about how to make the respective novels sharper. But the brutal truth is that I’m good at sniffing out the darn things myself. I bet you are, too.

Are you feeling brave? Because I want you to share a discarded darling or two of your own. But I’ll go first.

“There were no mysteries to be solved in New Belford. The last disturbance was when two drunk brothers got in a fight about which of them should inherit their mother’s small cottage on the lake. The younger brother had shot the older brother, but when he was convicted he cried, saying that his brother being dead was a worse punishment than prison. It turned out there was a second mortgage on the house and neither one of them would’ve owned anything. No mystery there. Just Darwinism at work.”

Reasons to cut:

Unnecessary action, all is exposition, and it has little to do with the story. Plus, we never meet these characters again. The focus should stay on the story.

Now, it’s your turn.

Find a darling from something you’re working on (or have recently finished) and share it with us. Be sure to tell us why you think it’s a good idea to get rid of it–or not!

 

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About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar- and ITW Thriller Award- nominated author of eight novels of suspense, including The Stranger Inside (Publishers Weekly starred review). Her Bliss House gothic trilogy includes The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, she lives in Southern Illinois with her family. Visit her at www.laurabenedict.com.

15 thoughts on “Let’s Murder Some Darlings, Darling

  1. I just murdered a darling this morning. Pages of darlings, in fact. Here’s the last couple lines. “Checkmate, Mr. Paradox. Once Niko finds the blood, your reign of terror will cease to exist.” Meh. The “Checkmate” part I liked, but it needed to go. The rest adds nothing and seems a bit cliché.

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  2. This post couldn’t come at a better time for me. At approximately two this morning I conceded that an entire chapter (8 pages) had to go. In my opinion, it is a really good chapter and well written for a first draft. In fact, it might be a nice place to start book four, but there is no book four in the series.

    I realize the problem is I don’t write a story in order. I have written the trial first and gone back and filed in the crime. I have started with the last chapter. I have started with … You get the idea.

    The ‘darling’ chapter is about the grandmother of one of the four ‘Millridges’ coming for a visit. It gave me a great opportunity to show how well they work together as a family unit and, since I wrote it from a POV other than the actual grandchild’s, I got to provide some observations with less influenced baggage.

    The problem with this ‘darling’ is where to put it. Should I put it after the embezzlement has been discovered – No, it slows down the pace. Should I put it after the body is exhumed and ruled a homicide – No, because I don’t reveal the nature of his relationship with his grandmother for several more chapters, so the reader will be saying, “Why is this here.” Should I put it later in the book after they are victims of a hate crime – No, it’s too casual of a visit to a home where one family member is the prime suspect in an embezzlement case, a suspected blackmailer and the police are looking at for one murder and possibly two.

    The problem with this very touching chapter is it doesn’t fit anywhere in the novel without some serious maneuvering or rewriting.

    So at two this morning I decided no matter how much I liked the chapter it had to go and closed my laptop. I’ll admit it was the first thing I thought about this morning, should I try harder? Then I read this post. Thank you.

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    • What a thoughtful comment, Michelle. Sounds like a very rough time, and it’s really hard to kill a whole chapter, I know. Think about places you could sprinkle some of the flashback after the crime. If the suspect is involved in the flashback, then perhaps we get to see a surprising side of them, casting shadows on their possible guilt.

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  3. If a darling is not pulling their weight, or even dragging down the enterprise, they may have to go. But not always.

    Michelle suggested that her chapter might have been in the wrong place in the novel. Even though that wasn’t the solution in her case, it’s a good thing to check. Maybe darling belongs somewhere else in the work.

    But there’s another consideration–thanks to Gilstrap’s latest YouTube effort, which I just watched. He tells how a scene just wasn’t working, a scene he wrote from the villain’s PoV. When he rewrote it in the victim’s PoV, it pulled its weight and more. (Not that switching to the victim’s PoV is always the solution, of course.)

    So if a darling isn’t pulling their weight, one thing to consider is a PoV change. Does anyone have other examples of that working?

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    • This is timely for me, Eric. On my last phone conference w/ my editor, we made big POV changes in the flashback sequences. It felt a bit shocking to me, but it really makes sense. That Gilstrap guy is crazy-genius!

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  4. The set-up: My hero Louis is driving with his boss, Captain Steele, chasing down a lead to a murder. This comes on page 395 — keep that number in mind:

    Louis glanced over at Steele. He was staring out his side window at the endless blur of asphalt lined by brown-gray trees.
    Suddenly, Steele spun around in the seat. It was a moment before he turned back around.
    “You see that?” he asked.
    Louis looked in the rearview mirror. A small white clapboard church with a high spire stood out like a ghost in the gray mist.
    “Yeah,” Louis said. “I noticed it on my first trip up here. Weird, isn’t it, a church sitting by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.”
    “It’s a Catholic church, I believe,” Steele said.
    “How do you know?”
    “The style. It’s called carpenter-gothic. And that big gold cross on top of the spire. Only the Catholics would do that. Protestants would be content with a rooster.”
    Louis was silent, wondering again about what wasn’t in that FBI dossier Emily had found on Steele. The man’s voice had changed, if just for a moment, as he talked about the church. Or maybe it something else. It was the style — no, the architecture — of the little church. And Louis thought suddenly of that wooden model staircase to nowhere back in Steele’s office.

    Yeah, it’s kind of a cool aside about the man’s character, but we are moving fast to the climax! Who the heck cares about church architecture??? This is called bad pacing.

    Don’t know what I was thinking, but thank God I knew to cut it.

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    • I LOVE this Kris! It’s a great example, and just the kind of thing I often catch in my own work. It’s easy to fall in love with things we writers add/notice along the way, but it doesn’t always serve the story and reader.

      “Protestants would be content with a rooster.” Clever!

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