“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
I am always scared, when I begin rewriting a book, that I will lose my nerve. I get nervous that I am way, way too close to it, and that I won’t be able to see what needs to be dropped – or worse, that I’ll see it, that I’ll know, but that I won’t be able to bring myself to take it to the chopping block. I have rewritten three novels now and each time I feel the clutch of this fear.
The thing with me, though, is that if the rewrites are going well my darlings drop left and right. The key to rewriting is realizing what your book is really about and letting it be about that thing.
There is a section in the first draft of Ariah that I dearly love. It allows a character unfairly judged to show compassion and humanity. It provides my very favorite description of a piece of furniture I’ve ever written. It adds depth to two of the main characters and throws another in a stark, unforgiving light. This section, oddly, forced me to write poetry, some of which I would dare to call good. It has a perfect entrance for a character, and a perfect exit for another. And it no longer belongs in the book.
I realized that as I was writing today. It is still good, but it’s not right for this book. The book has changed, clarified, and the work this section did in the first draft has already been done much more elegantly and simply in this second draft. My darling’s death was painless, and amicable, and the door is open to resurrect it in some different form in some different piece down the line.
And in this book, darlings very much need to be cut down. The first draft of Ariah runs just over 200,000 words. It is bloated. It is episodic and tangential. This section was a turning point in the first draft, but the section itself and the parts setting it up and resolving it ran 40,000 words – or, differently construed, it was a longish novella stuck in the middle of a novel.
I am sad to see it go, but I’m glad it’s gone. The book is better for it. This section-likely-to-be-later-reworked-as-a-novella will probably be better for it, too. It is also comforting to know that while I am most assuredly too close to the writing (who isn’t?) that I trust the rewrites enough to let the vestigial bits and pieces of the first draft fall by the wayside.