Thursday, May 13, 2010

No Sacred Cows

William Faulkner supposedly said "In writing, you must kill your darlings." You have to take the best things about your book and be ready to get rid of them if their absence will make the book stronger. At least I think that's what he meant.

I'm finishing up my revisions for the new book (which still doesn't have a title, but we're getting closer) and I've been realizing how much you have to be willing to sacrifice to make the book as good as it can be. Both my readers and Agent E (and me if I'm being honest) had questions about the motivation of one of the main characters. Finding the solution to the problem has taken many hours of staring into space, picking up scenarios, turning them over and seeing if they fit. In the process, I started to question everything from the main character's 'issues' to thinking that I might get rid of the villan all together. I took apart every character's thread and followed it from beginning to end, seeing where the flaws were and if the character really did what they set out to do. If they didn't live up to billing, I was fully prepared to get rid of them.

In the end, I'm having to rewrite the last four chapters and change the order of several more. After a lot of soul searching, I discovered that the villain could indeed stay, but that her motivation was completely different than what I'd thought. Yes, rewriting the last four chapters means a lot of hard work is now in the delete file. I lost many day's worth of writing. But I think that this will make the book so much better.

When you're revising, you not only have to kill your darlings, but you can't have any sacred cows. No character is too important for the delete key. No scenes are too strong, no phrasing is too wonderful that it absolutely has to stay. If you think something is wrong with your book, pick apart every little thing to see if it needs to stay.

I've seen many writers who "revise" by changing a few words here and there while ignoring glaring holes in their characters and plot. That brings to mind another saying - something about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

On this date: In 1981, Pope John Paul II is shot.


Shelli (srjohannes) said...

you gotta go thru it word by word and not be afraid....

Julie_c said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean. But when you go through all the work and are happy with it, it will be hard to remember what it was like before.

Good Luck!