You know your prose will stun your editors with its brilliance. When you reread that passage, it brought tears to your eyes. The emotion quivers on the page.
So why are your editors asking you to cut and rewrite your favorite section? Why do they see your fiery passages as deep purple?
I don’t know about you, but I have the most problems when I’m starting a novel.
Once it gets going, I’m okay – sure, I have to watch for sagging middles.
But here is a problem I had with a rough beginning, when the murder came too late in Brain Storm.
The first book in my Angela Richman, Death Investigator series was hard to write:
I was starting a new series, and it was hard-boiled, not cozy, a change for me.
Also, the plot used my actual experience. In 2007, I had six strokes, brain surgery and a coma. It took seven years to get up the nerve to write about this, and another year for my agent to sell this story.
Here’s the plot: Death Investigator Angela Richman has a series of blinding headaches. She goes to the ER and Dr. Porter Gravois tells her she’s too young and fit to have a stroke. He sends her home, and she has six strokes and brain surgery. She’s saved by Dr. Travis Tritt, a brilliant surgeon with a lousy bedside manner. Dr. Tritt hates Porter Gravois, and when Porter is murdered, Tritt is the main suspect. Angela, still sick and drug-addled, has to save the man who saved her life.
When Brain Storm sold, my manuscript went to Bryon Quertermous, a freelance development editor.
Here’s what Bryon wrote:
Plot-wise, I think you have a good motive and solid characters and a nice arc. That said, I think the arc starts too late and needs to encompass more of the first half of the book as well. You do a good job of starting strong with the character and with Angela’s job and readers will forgive a little slow burn to get into this cool world, but we need to see some plot development sooner than almost halfway through as it is now.
The biggest note I have is that Dr. Porter’s death scene needs to come sooner in the book, ideally a quarter of the way in or so. For Angela to really work at her best as a character she needs to be actively investigating a death, not just playing armchair detective with her friend, the pathologist Katie, as she does now. I think there are some great interactions between the two of them and I don’t want those to go away, but I think you can kill two birds with this.
First, you need to make a list of all of the scenes that come before Porter’s death. Next, write a little bit about each scene. Then figure out which ones can be reworked to come after that scene and which can’t, and then go from there.
I think a lot of the discussions with Katie about the Angel of Death can come after. I love the idea that you briefly toy with of having Angela obsessed with the perfect Hobie as the killer and, better yet, as a vigilante killer. I think Angela needs to come to this obsession sooner and it needs to coincide with her talks with Katie about the Angel of Death murders.
You need to build her paranoia here and really play around with it as she wonders in her head if what she thinks about Hobie really is true. I think you need at least one more big set piece hallucination (like the fake hospital one which I though was brilliant) and I think as Katie realizes more and more that Angela isn’t playing devil’s advocate that she actually thinks Hobie is the Angel of Death and that he killed Porter this can create some nice tension between the two friends. Part of this will come from a line of investigation I think you need to develop where Angela starts digging into the backgrounds of the other Angel of Death victims to see if they have anything in common or if they were bad people who needed to die like Porter did.
Bryon gave me good advice: I don’t believe the murder should always be in chapter one – but if someone isn’t dead by the first third of the book the writer is making the fatal mistake of slowing the pace.
But how could I cut those wonderful scenes?
Bryon had the answer: List all the scenes.
See which ones can be combined or relocated to another section of the book.
Kill the ones that slow it down. Be brave. If you want your book to live, you’re going to have to kill – or at least transform – those darling scenes.
Have you had to kill your darlings? Tell us about it.
Here’s how Brain Storm turned out. https://tinyurl.com/7kwezp3t