“Kill your darlings.” The link applied to that phrase leads to a great blog post by someone else describing what the phrase is all about. I had a chapter in The Moongate, Halloween, that I loved so much I refused to delete it when I was going through the hack-and-trim stage of my rewrites. I thought the chapter was funny. “It’s character development!” I’d cry in defense of the chapter when my subconscious, who knew better, kept telling me it was useless.
Finally, I listened to the quiet part of my brain that knows better. Halloween was 2800 words of worthless character development that was holding the story back. Absolutely nothing happened in that chapter to drive the plot forward, except for my main character getting her crush’s attention. I easily found a way to do that somewhere else using fewer than 200 words. I closed my eyes, apologized to my beloved chapter, hit the cut button–and then pasted the words in a “deleted scenes” document. Sometimes I go through those scenes and scavenge phrases or dialogue that I can use somewhere else. Other times I re-read them, laughing at the terrible writing and first-draftiness of it all.
I just re-read Halloween last night, and wondered what exactly it was about that chapter I loved so much anyway. It was kind of corny, and dragged on. But there is one small scene that sticks out in my mind. It remains a favorite, even if it will never have a place in The Moongate.
Eva grabbed my arm so we wouldn’t get separated. “Let’s get some soda–oh, no. You’re kidding me. What is that?” She pointed toward the snack counter.
Behind the counter, a bloody abomination took orders, tossing packets of candy to the clamoring crowd. “Drew!” I yelled as we approached. “What are you supposed to be?”
Drew’s grin wrinkled the heavy makeup covering his face. He pressed a dangling eyeball back onto his eyelid, where the adhesive was coming loose. “Can’t you tell, little sis? I’m the quintessential horror movie victim: every cliché you can think of on how they kill, maim, dismember, knock off, and fatally injure those poor fools, all in one body.” He struck a few poses so we could admire his genius.
I pointed at the large, stuffed bra strapped to the outside of his football jersey, with a bloody knife sticking out of it. “Um, what’s with the . . .”
He shook his head. “Nissa, Nissa. Haven’t been watching enough scary movies lately, have you? Don’t you know the first one who gets it is always the dumb chick with the big–”
“You know what?” Eva interrupted. “This is a good reason why you haven’t been able to get any dates.”
“Really funny!” Drew glowered around his hanging eye. “Are you gonna get some snacks, or what? Unless you want to help behind the counter. There’s only three of us to that horde of zombies you call your classmates there.” He gestured at his co-workers scurrying to keep up with the candy orders.
“We’ll get some drinks and some Reese’s,” Eva said.
Drew handed over our snacks. “Go brush up on your horror now. There are the classics on screens one and two, zombie movies on three, vampires on four, slasher films on five and six–”
“Yes, I know, thanks!” I took my soda from Drew, then jumped about a foot as he screamed; his hand came off with the cup and blood squirted on the counter. I grabbed the rubber prop and threw it into the popcorn machine. Eva and I ducked into the crowd before he could start yelling at us.
After you’ve let your first draft cook awhile, and you’re facing the daunting task of cutting unnecessary scenes, don’t let a sappy love affair with your own words stand in the way of your good judgement. Look at each scene with the critical eye of an agent or editor who couldn’t care less how brilliant or funny that dialogue is if it’s not pertinent to the story, and use your delete key like a knife and cut it out. Or save it in a deleted scenes file if you simply cannot bear to part with it forever.
I have 25 pages of deleted scenes for The Moongate alone. And, ultimately, I cut over 10,000 words from the first draft. I recently found out I can probably cut a little more. Muhahaha! I’m off to sharpen my knife.
Off-topic: Does the font look really small to you guys? I have it set to normal, which is between 12 and 14-point, but it looks tiny to me. It doesn’t usually do that, so I’m not sure what’s going on… Never mind, fixed it!