Thursday, January 06, 2011

Murdering Those Darlings

(Shameless plug: What's in a Name? is still available for 99 cents. Details in the sidebar) And I'll announce the winner of yesterday's blog contest tomorrow, so there's still time to leave a comment and get entered in the drawing.

Continuity in a book is a challenge. Continuity over a series is a bigger challenge. And when we forget, it can lead to facing reality. Our words aren't precious.

One of my crit partners questioned a passage in a chapter, wondering if the child might be wondering about an adult conversation. Although the fix was simple—make sure I clarified that the child, Will, wasn't in that scene (which, I think my CP simply missed), as I re-read the passage I realized I'd created a major blunder.

This manuscript deals with characters who have appeared in two other books—three if I get my next one published, but that's another issue. And because it's been a very long time since I looked at the earlier book, I'd totally forgotten that the child had already met this "new" character who was being introduced to him as a total stranger.

Okay, on the optimistic hope that 1) this book gets published; 2) someone who reads it has actually read the others; and 3) remembers that Will and Dalton have appeared on the page together in the earlier book, I had to deal with it.

Instinctively, I want to keep as much of the original as possible. But sometimes, painful as it may be, it's much better to excise the troublesome spots and pretend they never existed, then write it from scratch.

First consideration. Simply swap the characters. Ryan and Dalton, both featured in their own books, are here in their covert roles to help out the hero and heroine. So, instead of having Dalton show up at the fishing hole while Ryan monitors the threat level, I could change it to Ryan fishing and Dalton monitoring.

BUT … in the original, Elizabeth walked from the stream to the cabin with Dalton, it gave me the opportunity to introduce some conversation with references to the previous book. Not a lot, but just enough so readers who remember Dalton and Miri's story will feel like "insiders."

Option two: Deal with Will recognizing Dalton in the scene as soon as he shows up.

Either option has good and bad points.

Going with option one meant being willing to lose about 200 words of brilliant writing, which may or may not work its way back into the story later.

Going with option two means a scene with five people, and dealing with everyone's reactions to the "Hey, I know you!" scenario.

For this draft, I bit the bullet and killed (or at least anesthetized) my darlings. Elizabeth can walk back to the cabin with Ryan instead of Dalton, she can mention that Will is going to recognize Dalton, and I can get the plot point across in a couple of sentences rather than several paragraphs which might slog the pace.

In the end, I'll probably end up doing what I'm always telling crit partners who ask, "Should I do it this way or that way?" Write it and see. Just don't be afraid to murder those darlings.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

That's one of those things that I have a hard time keeping track of. I haven't had a first reader catch my boo-boos, but my editor sure has! A good point on murdering our darlings.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - You'd think that since I'd recently edited Where Danger Hides, which is where the characters in this book met, I MIGHT have remembered!

Celia Kyle said...

I always hate those moments. I have a hard time remembering the details of past books, especially when I switch back and forth between a series. One para, one contemp, back to para... LOL

Terry Odell said...

Celia - more power to you being able to work on more than 1 project. This one came to a halt while I was doing edits and revisions for What's in a Name?

Rachel Firasek said...

I have a friend who will write a scene, then if it's not working, she'll draft another scene in the side notes. Between the two drafts, we usually find the best prose. Sometimes you just have to see it, to make the connections. Great post!

Shannon said...

Oh, I hate having to go back and make a choice as to whether my darlings need to be murdered or not. Especially when the issue is to sort out a plot kink. Do I want to keep this even if it means that this should happen or do I want to pare it down and lose the scene? I feel your pain.