16 January 2013

K is for Killing Your Babies


If you are reading this blog, chances are you already know what this means, so I won't elaborate on the meaning. I'm just going to tell you why it is such a difficult thing for writers to do.

When we start out with a story idea, in the beginning, that's all it is, an idea. Now insert some serious time. Maybe six months? 

During that time while we are compiling our story, in between bouts of creative writing, we will go a length of time where we are doing nothing but thinking about our story. While we eat, sleep, stroll through the park on a bright, sunny day, we are thinking about our story.

Our internal thoughts, released from the chains which previously had us locked to our desk, run free and flow endlessly. These moments produce the fertile grounds which invite the birth of our babies. It's the core of who we are. If we don't have a pen and paper at hand, our minds burst trying to hold on to the thoughts long enough to get home and put fingers to keyboard in order to capture every drop which bleeds from our soul.

Ah ha! I'm so brilliant...THIS is going into my story!

Little do we know, we are inserting ourselves into the story. Most of the time, these snippets have nothing to do with the story. This is where it gets personal. We want the reader to know us, to invite us into their homes, to enjoy our company and the brilliance of our minds. NO! STOP! 

Too late…it's made its way into the story. There it will sit, until it reaches an agent, editor, or critique partner. They will read the inserted material and frown at you.

"I see you've introduced some babies into your story," they will say while striking through some part of your manuscript.

"Wh-whatever do you mean?" Of course, you are sincere in that you are unaware of any babies in your manuscript. The story is about six drunks who find themselves stranded on a deserted island. Of course there are no babies in your story!

When you receive back your edited manuscript, there it is. Your baby, strikethrough all over it. 

They can't mean it! That's the best writing you've ever done in your entire life! That paragraph will make it into the next literary review of *insert name of famous literary magazine of your choice* Are they out of their collective minds?


Actually, they're not. They probably agree, it's beautifully written. It just doesn't belong in THIS story. Nevertheless, no worries. Just kill the baby, place it in your recycle folder, and resurrect it in another story. It's that simple. Now, if only I could finish a story and find out what kind of babies I'll have.

So, how did you react the first time you had to make an edit you didn’t want to make?



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24 comments:

  1. My bad habit is summarizing at the end of a story. I'm compelled to do this! However, my critique group kindly points out that the story should end BEFORE I ruin it by summarizing. I usually have to think about their advice for a few days or weeks, then I remove the 2 or 3 sentences at the end and meditate on the change. Eventually, I'm able to recognize the wisdom of chopping off what should not be present, i.e. my baby. It is a sad by necessary amputation.

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    1. Amputation is a harsh word, but it is the correct one. It's painful to do it to yourself! :)

      Delete
  2. I had a passage that I removed from the manuscript that was really just wish fulfillment. I had one of my main characters knock a drunk on his ass at a ski resort to teach him some manners. The drunk was basically my idiot ex-brother-in-law. Good passage, but it really didn't fit in with the story itself.

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    1. Let me guess...you were the main character too? :D

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    2. No, but he was acting on my behalf!

      Delete
  3. I've taken that kill your baby to heart, maybe a little too much. I can be a little rough on my stories. But, like you said, I can recycle the scene or passage. It is touch though, when the scene is so perfect but it just doesn’t belong in the book. My motto is if I'm even thinking of removing or changing it, it doesn't belong in my story.

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    1. If I cut a few lines, I'm not too concerned, but when I remove a paragraph or two (once I removed an entire chapter), I'll put it in my "snippet" folder.

      I haven't gone back in that folder in forever. Time to go take a look!

      Delete
  4. I once killed the first two chapters of a book and retitled "Chapter Three" as "Chapter One". It was 100% the right decision and I've never regretted it, but at the time, I was a nervous wreck as I held that weapon of mass destruction!

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  5. I used to do that a lot. I even did it on my current book, the trilogy. I kept seeing -me- in there, which was not at all how she, the protagonist, should have reacted, or experienced. There is such a thing as drawing on too much experience!

    Now, instead, I'm actively looking out for it. And, instead of putting me in there, I look for my previous experiences and think about how i "Felt". Because then I can still use my experiences, I just down write about them. I use what came out of them. Big difference!

    (Example: I recently had problems coming up with the right mindset for someone who's traveled from one realm to another, meeting a whole new culture. I then, remembered, my time living with the Masai in Tanzania. Same thing, just, of course, not a different realm! I had to learn everything from scratch.)

    Great post! Keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thanks L.T.! I switched from 1st person to 3rd person once and found all kinds of babies. lol

      Any sort of change will produce babies! Jeez.

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    2. Wow, that's strange. That's what happened to me. I finished book 1 this summer, 1st person, then decided to write the whole thing again in 3rd person. And that's when I started finding babies.

      I wonder why that is. Hmm.

      If only it was this easy in real life, huh?! I'd have a ton of them already ;o

      Delete
  6. My process for handing my editorial letters is always the same. Read the comments, yell "What?", sleep on it, and then wake up to see my editor is absolutely correct. Then I can get to work on making the manuscript better. ;)

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    1. I like that reaction, Kelly. LOL

      Mine is like, "Really?!" :D

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  7. A writing coach once gave me some great advice. At the time my work in progress was called 'Cake.' The coach told me that I inserted a lot of material that was more likely personal than something that needed to be in the story. He told me this: "Read your work and question it. Look for elements that are a part of Cake and identify those that aren't. With every line ask yourself, "Is this Cake?" If it isn't Cake, it doesn't belong." I try to abide by that advice as much as possible.....which means going back and deleting a TON of "isn'ts" ;)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Ah, the editing process is a challenge for me, randi. I once had to cut 500 words from a 2000 word short story in order to meet the submission guidelines of a contest.

      That's one quarter of the story! It was tough, very tough! But, it makes me wonder just how complete a story really can be without so many words. Amazing!

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  8. It broke my heart. I had a huge passage in the novel that I loved, but it was disrupting the flow of the story. I selected it and sat with my finger poised over the delete key. When I hit it...I felt like someone had ripped a lung out.

    I don't always feel loss when I have to take something out. This last time, I deleted my first two chapters and started over from scratch. I felt liberated. I finally realized that my MC had taken on some on my issues and it was weighing the story down. It just wasn't her. It didn't fit. I wish it was always that easy on me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like you might have a memoir in the working? :D

      Delete
  9. I've killed many of my babies lately. I removed two unfinished chapters from the manuscript, decided not to write some scenes in the first book and so on. The story looks much better now!

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    1. Congrats! For every baby you must kill off, may you give birth to many more! :)

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    2. I mean, give birth to many more you get to KEEP! lol

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  10. I always find the best ways to kill your babies (or murder your darlings, as I usually put it) is to give yourself some breathing room between drafts, especially that last draft. It's easier with short stories than with novels, obviously, but setting a manuscript aside for a few weeks and then coming back to it with a fresh "reader's" mind allows me to see the bits that my writer's bias was clinging to for no good reason. This allows me to excise most of them before I get them on an editor's desk.

    Of course, a few of those slippery little devils still manage to slip through from time to time until an editor slaps me on the wrist for it . . . and then I slap my forehead and go, "Of course!"

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    1. Great advice JW! It does work, too. I put aside 5 chapters once. I know I should have finished the thing before I went back for edits. I ended up killing the entire thing. It was just one huge baby! lol

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