The Writing Process Part 6: Cutting Your Darlings

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked via Twitter: “Mrs. @mbweston, what’s your writing process?” To answer his question, I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about how I go about my personal writing process. So far, we’ve covered:

FACT 1: Your 2nd draft will probably have more words than your final edit.

FACT 2: If it doesn’t, you didn’t cut enough out of your 2nd draft.

We’re writers. We love words. We play with words. We try to outdo someone else’s words. Words are our playground, and this love affair causes us to use far too many of them. We add unnecessary scenes because they are “cool.” We over-describe things. We create redundancies just to make sure our readers “get the point.”

Once you’ve added in your description, you must face the most feared part of the writing process: the chopping block. You will need to cut scenes, sentences, and sometimes even characters, and you will hate it. But you will carry on with your task because you know it will make your completed work a tighter, more concise piece of literature. So just do it, and don’t look back.

Okay, I’m done giving myself a pep talk for my own writing projects. 😉 Let’s talk about editing and “cutting your darlings” as Stephen King calls it in his book: On Writing.

First, create a folder called “Deleted Scenes” for your specific writing project. Put your deleted scenes here. Why?

  • It feels much better to move a scene from one place to another instead of sending it permanently to the recycle bin.
  • You or your editor might decide to put it back in.
  • You can always post it on your writing blog later. (See below)
  • You might use it in a future book within your series.

Once you have created your deleted scenes folder, it’s time to start cutting. (You can put a box of tissue and make sure the number to your writing pal is on speed dial if it helps.)

Read back through your manuscript and cut anything that isn’t necessary. This is tricky because you will insist to yourself that everything is necessary. To illustrate, here is a scene from Out of the Shadows that didn’t survive to the final draft. Note that the language is a bit silly. I cut this scene before the final edit, which I will discuss in my next blog. (For those of you who have read OOTS, this takes place in the Outer Command Tower.)

Davian Marcus, Copper, Lorne, and Klous entered the banquet hall for dinner, and Davian heard laughing and clapping inside. Once they entered, Davian saw the reason for the laughter.

Tyce and Theo were dancing together on top of the tables, kicking their feet up and locking arms as they balanced arrows on their noses. The soldiers passed articles, from daggers to sunstars, around as they wagered on how much longer the two could keep it up. Gabriella sat at the table laughing with the rest.

Marcus growled. “Looks like the boy forgot the lecture you gave him this afternoon.”

Theo’s arrow finally tumbled off and fell into Gabriella’s hand. Tyce pushed Theo aside and raised his arms as the champion. Applause thundered throughout the banquet hall. Tyce’s smile broadened when he saw Gabriella holding the arrow. “That means you have to dance with me!” He scooped Gabriella up and began twirling her around on the table.

Davian felt his insides turn around.

Tyce picked Gabriella up by the waist and flung her, spinning, into the air—a typical cherubian dance move, and Gabriella reacted appropriately. She tucked her head and crossed her arms and ankles so she could spin as fast as possible. She was supposed to open her wings the moment she began to fall. Unfortunately, both Gabriella and Tyce forgot her wings were broken. Gabriella’s arms flailed grasping only air as she plummeted to the ground.

Tyce grabbed her arm just before she hit the floor, pulled her up, and caught her in his arms. He laughed, spinning her around once before he set her down. “Sorry, my lady. I forgot your wings didn’t work.”

I tried to convince myself to keep this scene for these reasons:

  • It shows that Tyce likes Gabriella and is flirting with her.
  • It shows that Theo and Tyce are jokesters.
  • It shows that Tyce is disobeying an order (previously given by his commanding officer because he has a sore foot that needs to heal). I wanted the reader to see Tyce showing disrespect to Davian, which is integral to Tyce’s behavior later.
  • It also shows that Tyce, though he likes Gabriella, doesn’t really care that much for her safety. He tosses her into the air even though he knows her wings are broken. He is careless with her. That shows something to the audience.
  • I just liked it. It’s a fun scene with a little bit of flirtatiousness in it, and we ladies like flirting scenes.

I overruled myself by asking myself the questions below, which are questions each writer should ask of a scene during the cutting process. (And yes, editing makes you feel schizophrenic.)

  • Is this scene necessary to my plot?
  • Is this scene necessary for character development?
  • Is this scene necessary to my theme/s?

Is this scene necessary to my plot? Does it move your plot forward? Does it add information your characters will need later? Your plot is the integral part of your story; all scenes should somehow affect the plot. If the scene doesn’t help the plot move forward, you need to cut it, no matter how much you like it.

I can make a good plot argument for keeping the above scene. Tyce’s advances toward Gabriella are integral to her decisions later in Out of the Shadows and Book III. (I’ll bet a bunch of you who are waiting for Book III are mad at me—and Tyce—for throwing that one out there.) However, the scene doesn’t move the central plot forward, and I had already included other scenes with flirting. Hence, the axe…

Is this scene necessary for character development? If your scene doesn’t progress your plot along, you might be able to salvage it for character development purposes. Does it show something about your character that reveals more about who he is? Does it change your character or show him or her changing?

My earlier arguments to myself for keeping my deleted scene in the story were mostly based on character development. The reader saw a bit more of Tyce and Gabriella and the development of their relationship. However, as mentioned earlier, I already had several scenes that showed all of that.

Bottom line: the character development provided in this scene was not valuable enough to warrant keeping it. Hence, the axe…

Is this scene necessary to my theme/s? Treat your thematic content the same way your treat your character development content. If the content isn’t valuable enough to warrant keeping the scene, axe it!

The same goes for characters themselves. If the character isn’t necessary story, axe him or her.

Have I already done this before? If the same thing is happening in a different location, axe it.

Am I holding on to this scene because it develops part of my fantasy or science fiction world? This is one of my most common reasons I try to hold onto useless scenes. I want readers to experience my fantasy world. I must constantly remind myself that my reader doesn’t want to hang out in my world unless something interesting is going on there. If a scene’s only purpose is world development, axe it.

NOTE: If a scene contains key character development, world development, or thematic elements that you want to keep, you can rescue them in one of two ways:

  • Move those elements to a separate scene that is integral to the plot.
  • Make the scene central to the plot. Add in some information that the reader needs. Stage a nice battle or a fight. Add something in that the reader will need to recall at the end.

Cutting scenes that you have so lovingly created stings, but it’s necessary. My heart goes out to each of you struggling with this part of the process. Just remember, it only hurts for a while, and you can always blog on it! *wink wink*

Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.

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About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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10 Responses to The Writing Process Part 6: Cutting Your Darlings

  1. I have mentioned before that I look forward to these posts and yet again I am pleased with the content you have offered. Thanks for the ongoing series.

    Like

  2. Pingback: The Writing Process: Part 7 – Editing for Grammar & Style | M. B. Weston's Official Website

  3. I’m not even at this point and I know I’m gonna want to shoot myself.

    Like

    • M. B. Weston says:

      Yeah, writing is a lot harder than what other people might think. But I’m sure you will do fine once you get there! Instead of pulling your hair out, try chewing on your red pen cap. When I’m in editing mode, all my pen caps have teeth marks in them, lol!

      Like

  4. Pingback: And Now You Know the Rest of the Story? | joanneeddy's blog

  5. Pingback: The Writing Process Part 8 – Using Advance Readers | M. B. Weston's Official Website

  6. Pingback: The Writing Process Part 9 – Dealing With Critique | M. B. Weston's Official Website

  7. Pingback: The Writing Process Part 10 – Read Your Manuscript Out Loud | M. B. Weston's Official Website

  8. Pingback: Recap of The Writing Process Posts | M. B. Weston's Official Website

  9. Pingback: Prewriting: A Neglected Stage of the Writing Process « Revolutionary Paideia

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