When I started writing this post I fully intended to discuss Chuck Wendig's distinction between writing and storytelling and how to use this distinction to help diagnose problems in your manuscript. But then I fell down the rabbit hole of layer cakes and editordomes.
That's right. Editordomes.
In a soon-to-be-written post I do fully intend to talk about writing versus storytelling--a distinction I've wanted to talk about for some time--but for now I'm going to talk (or, rather, write) about how to identify darlings and then massacre them.
Kill Your Darlings
What is a darling? It's something that exists in your manuscript only because you love it. Or, to put it another way, if something is in your manuscript, your story, only because you love it then it's a darling and needs to go. (1)
Simply put, a darling "doesn't connect. It doesn't bond with the rest of the manuscript." (1)
A true “darling” is a lone wolf, a ronin ninja, a pretty little unibomber, a delicate snowflake. It does nothing for your work. It dances alone with itself in the corner, and you don’t have the heart to tell it that it needs to join the rest of the crowd or drink a capful of drain cleaner. (1)Okay, that's how a darling functions, or fails to function, in your manuscript, but what is it? Chuck writes: "Darlings can be anything: a turn-of-phrase, a character, a word, a grammatical crutch (1)".
The test: how to determine if something is a darling
Here's the question you should ask yourself: If you cut out this bit of text does the story loose anything? Chuck writes:
Theatrically kill it. ... You’re just… taking it out of the draft for a little while to see how it reads, how it feels, how it lays. Copy the offending section. Paste it into a blank document. Let it sit there on its own ... Come back after fifteen minutes (or, up to a whole day if you’re able). Now, check out the draft once more. Re-read it. Read it aloud. (Always read aloud. I will jackhammer that into your brain as often as I can.) Do you feel that it lays fine the way it is? Or do you say, “Y’know what? This is missing a little something-something. Needs more salt and pepper.”
If it’s okay without it — and I’ll bet 7 times out of 10 it will be — then the darling you’ve sequestered on its own is no longer on vacation, but now trapped in a Murder Room. Close that open window and let it die a swift death.
If you think it needs more spice, more flavor, put it back in. “Kill your darlings” is not meant to be a surly screed against flavor. Flavor is good, as long as flavor accompanies nutritional value. Again, to go back to the empty calories metaphor: darlings are garnish for the sake of garnish, or sweets just because you want sweets. (1)
Weak Words: An Example Of A Darling That Has To Go
In Strangling My Darlings In A Clawfoot Bathtub (Part Two Of Two) Chuck gives examples of darlings. It's well worth the read, but I want to talk about one of his examples here because this is something I still battle with: the use of weak words or as Chuck writes: "mushy, weak, wobbly words".
Maybe, actually, really, almost, sort of, kind of, very, theoretically, mehh, meeeehhhhhh.That doesn't mean weak words always make your prose boring, in fact you might think they lend it flair. Chuck concedes this, to a point.
You want your writing to sound conversational.
But you don’t want it to sound like uncertain conversation. You don’t want it weak-in-the-knees. (2)
They’re not terrible in total, and some can lend to a stylistic flair, but it’s often too easy to default to that as your excuse. “My writing doesn’t suck. It’s just my style.”
Well, fine. Then your style involves copious amounts of sucking. (2)
How We Can Drown Darlings Without Drama
Be in the right state of mind
You need to let your manuscript go. Yes, you have invested a lot of yourself in its pages, into the story, but now it's time to let it go, to disassociate yourself from it. It is not you. Keep saying that until you believe it.
I love the way Chuck puts this: "You are not the sum of those pages." (1)
How does one distance oneself from ones litterary offspring? Put your manuscript in a drawer, close the drawer and walk away. Chuck advises taking at least a month off, Stephen King recommends six weeks. Don't even open the drawer. Forget about the manuscript. Wipe it from your mind as much as possible. You want to come back to it with new eyes and edit it as though it were someone else's work. That's the kind of objectivity you'll need.
Read Everything Aloud
I don't do this but I know I should ... and now that I've read Chuck's posts I think I will. He writes:
You do that [read aloud], you will hear all the fits and starts, all the awkward language, all the broken pauses, all the disturbed rhythms. Typing is not like speaking — we have the extra step of having our fingers do their little fingery dance. As such, you need to bridge that gap. (3)
Have you ever read your manuscript aloud? Have you ever had your manuscript read to you?
References:1. Strangling My Darlings In A Clawfoot Bathtub (Part One Of Two)
2. Strangling My Darlings In A Clawfoot Bathtub (Part Two Of Two)
3. Welcome To Editordome
Other articles you might like:- Chuck Wendig Says That Editing Is Writing
- Looking At Plot: Urban Myths And What They Teach Us
- Monsignor Ronald Knox's 10 Rules Of Detective Fiction
Photo credit: "A petición de Fran." by www dot jordiarmengol dot net (Xip) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.