Several famous names have advised new writers to murder their darlings. No, not to slaughter their family and friends, but in relation to their writing. It's advice I've often tried to follow since first encountering the quote from Stephen King in his excellent On Writing. Given that I'd recently finished writing my first book when I read On Writing, you might think that I've always tried to follow it, but that wouldn't be true. Like any other writer, I have a few goals when I start a new story or when I'm wading through edit after edit. And like any other writer, I have that little voice that says 'but that bit is great. Who cares if it doesn't really do anything? It's really cool.'
That little voice needs to - and this is very important, so pay attention - fuck right off. If a 'bit' I think is good, whether it's a line, a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter, doesn't add to the overall story and is just there for me to stroke my ego all over it, then I need to kill it. Kill it fast and kill it hard. Trouble is, remembering that isn't always as easy as saying it.
I recently had the idea for a couple of short stories which I thought might be quite fun. Before writing a word on either, I knew I wanted to do something a little different with them. Nothing outlandish, just not be too constrained by wordcount, to let the stories go as they liked to, then trim the fat rather than rush through them and give them a polish as I've occasionally done. I wrote the first one that way, gave it a shine and am pretty happy with it. Not perfectly happy, of course, but happy enough to consider it ready for submission in a couple of weeks. The other one was a little different. I had a very precise image in mind which formed the basis of the story, so I built the story around it. Not a terrible idea, you might think, and it's not. The problem was the story became that image, and that wasn't enough to carry me (let alone anyone else) through four thousand words. So I went back to the start, rewrote the midsection and still had a bit of a stinker. Third time lucky - I kept the image which had inspired me (for what it's worth, it's a sidestreet pub in the middle of a city that's rapidly emptying because...ha. I'm not saying) and used it as background rather than the basis for the whole story. It needs a bit of a tidy but it's done - because I murdered my darlings.
All this brings me to the edits and planned rewrite of my WIP. This one started with another precise image and another attempt to build a book around it. For me, at least, it was a bad move. Still, I kept on with the book because you can't fix what you don't finish, and read through it over the last week. It's got big problems but I know what they are. They're my darlings. To fix them, I need to rewrite a massive chunk, lose several plot strands which go nowhere and remember something that's true for me: the story is the boss.
In short, I have to kill my darlings.