A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl

Killing Your Darlings: Who to Save and Who to Slaughter

January 12, 2021 Megan O'Russell Season 1 Episode 56
A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl
Killing Your Darlings: Who to Save and Who to Slaughter
A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl
Killing Your Darlings: Who to Save and Who to Slaughter
Jan 12, 2021 Season 1 Episode 56
Megan O'Russell

Immense changes can be necessary between when the author feels a manuscript is ready and when the readers finally receive the book.

From standing up to an editor to preserve the heart of your story to adapting how you lure your reader into the world you've created, there is a fine line between what's worth fighting for and when you should simply hit delete.

Show Notes Transcript

Immense changes can be necessary between when the author feels a manuscript is ready and when the readers finally receive the book.

From standing up to an editor to preserve the heart of your story to adapting how you lure your reader into the world you've created, there is a fine line between what's worth fighting for and when you should simply hit delete.

Megan: [00:00:00] But if you do figure out that you have actually offended members of some community, members of your own community perhaps, then don't be [bleep]. Take it out of your book. It's not that hard.


Announcement: [00:00:16] Welcome to A Book and a Dream with Megan O'Russell and Authors', adventure and writing, reading and being an epic fangirl.


Megan: [00:00:26] Hello, my name is Megan O'Russell and welcome to Episode 56 of A Book and A Dream. When you write a book, there is this feeling that you're...you're pouring your whole  heart and soul into this creation. And, you know, some people, I'm sure, get everything completely right. And it's great. And it's perfect. And there is this artistic masterpiece that no one would ever dare tamper with.


Megan: [00:00:53] But for us mere mortals, you get to the end of the writing process and it's time to edit, which is great. Edits and rewrites and drafts and all those fancy things are great. That's how a book goes from something that you have hidden on your computer to something that you want other people to see. But it can be hard because in that process, sometimes you have to cut some of those things that you poured your whole heart and soul into. Now, hopefully you are very lucky and it's like some lines, some words on the page, maybe some unnecessary dialogue in a scene or the last couple lines in a chapter to make the ending stronger.


Megan: [00:01:35] But sometimes it's bigger things that you have to cut, like side plots, scenes, characters, themes, all kinds of things that you may have to cut. So how do you know when you should cut these things and when it is time to stand your ground?


Megan: [00:01:52] Well, here is my list of advice on how to decide whether you should dig in your heels or just murder those darlings so your book can go out into the world.


Megan: [00:02:01] First of all, who is this advice coming from? Who's telling you to take things out of your book? Is it a beta reader? Is it a paid beta reader, or is it a beta reader that is a highly successful published author who has been around for 20 years? Is it an editor? Is it your agent, or is it someone who is offering you a Hollywood deal? If someone is telling you to change things about your story, you have to consider not only their experience level and how much they know about the industry, your genre, how much financial risk you're willing to take by publishing something that may not fit in the market. You kind of have to consider all of that and then also consider what the potential gains are.


Megan: [00:02:43] For example, if you are just working with a beta reader and they're like, "I don't like this"... It's your book, they're your beta, they're there for advice. And a lot of times, you should take it. But if you don't agree, there are basically no stakes. If it's your agent telling you to cut something, are they not going to submit the book or are they not going to send it out to these editors at these publishing houses?


Megan: [00:03:04] Is it someone from Hollywood who's like, "Hey, if you're willing to cut these three characters from your book, I'll make it into a Netflix series"? There's a lot of different levels of consideration. If someone's offering you two-hundred thousand dollars to cut three characters from your book, you're probably a lot more likely to do it than if your beta reader tells you to.


Megan: [00:03:26] You also have to consider if it fits in your book.


Megan: [00:03:29] Now, there could be some brilliant content that you came up with and no one's ever done it before. It's completely unique, which never really happens. But it is. You finally managed it. But do zombie unicorns really fit in your cozy mystery? Like sure, that could be a great and brilliant concept, but if it's really about a small town detective who's trying to work their way back into society after trauma, do zombie real...unicorns really work with that? So sometimes you have to separate the concepts.


Megan: [00:04:00] Maybe you've tried to put too many things into this book, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when you take it out. Leaving it in would probably a bad thing, but...be a bad thing, but you do you. Like, there could be a niche for that. There's, like, a whole bunch of weird niches out there. So maybe that is your calling. But if you do take it out, it's not a failure. It is not a loss because you can use zombie unicorns in a different book. So cut them out of your cozy mystery. And then once that cozy mystery is written, become the zombie unicorn-writing king or queen or whoever you want to be and grab that.


Megan: [00:04:36] And now you have two books that you have in your back pocket that you can write. That's a pretty big win.


Megan: [00:04:43] Is there a good reason that you need this in the book now? It may not be evident to your beta, your editor or agent, the movie people, but is there a reason that you put it in there? Maybe you have a scene in the book about this woman's shoes. Shoes are always fun, and it's this woman's obsession with stilettos and how she refuses to never wear stilettos. Like, she...she must do it all the time. It is her theme, and you have, like, a three-page scene about her shoes.


Megan: [00:05:13] And people are like, "Cut the shoe bit. We don't need it in there. Get rid of it." But in the back of your head, you're like, "No. I need this a little bit because in the next book she's going to die because she wouldn't take off her stilettos, and someone killed her because she was not fast at running." Like, it could be that. So you really need that in your next book. And, you know, if you're working with an editor, an agent, a Hollywood producer, then tell them. Be like, "I really need this scene, because she is going to die terribly, and people are going to be like, 'wait a second. I never knew that she was that attached to her footwear' if you don't have this in book one."


Megan: [00:05:49] So, know what seeds you've planted so you can grow something for your readers later, because you can't just toss some things in at the last minute. You have to plant the seeds before it seems logical. So know what is a seed that you're going to grow and what is some random side thing that you can slash out because readers lose interest and a lot of people never finish the books they pick up.


Megan: [00:06:12] So if you don't need that scene about the stilettos, cut it out. If you need the stilettos so that you can kill her later, keep it in.


Megan: [00:06:20] Another important thing to consider in the short run is do the readers need the information in order to move on in that immediate scene? So let's say that you have built this entire government, and there's like chancellors and then there's elected people and then there's the soldiers.


Megan: [00:06:40] But the soldiers are elected, which would be really bad for soldiers because then what if they're bad at soldiering, but maybe in your world it works, whatever. But you have this whole series of things about how the military works, and we're about to go into the military compound and meet these people for the first time. So, it can be really tempting to create an info dump. And what that means is you have a three-page scene. I keep going back to three pages. I don't know why. Let's call it a twelve-page scene. Let's up the stakes.


Megan: [00:07:07] There's a twelve page scene where you go through the entire military system and how people are given their positions and how they rank under one another. And what happens if someone in the military does something wrong?


Megan: [00:07:19] Yeah, that's great that you have that whole system. But do they need to know all that information right now?


Megan: [00:07:25] You could, instead of having a twelve-page scene about the entire system, let's say they do elect soldiers, which again, would probably be a really bad idea, but someone on the way into the complex is like, "Yes, and he won the election and he is a terrible soldier and we may all die."


Megan: [00:07:42] That's really all you need in that moment. So sometimes when people are telling you to cut out information, it's not that they want to cut it out of their world. It's just that you don't need it all right there. So you can say, "Oh, yes, elected soldier bad." And then when you meet the elected soldier, be like, "Yes, but he wants to be the chancellor because once you've been an elected soldier, the head one is the chancellor." And then you move on and they're like, "Don't do that bad thing. If you soldier do that bad thing, you will have grave punishment," and you can spread it out throughout the book.


Megan: [00:08:10] So sometimes when people are saying cut information, they're not saying cut it. They're saying redistribute it. Because if you give it all to me right now, first of all, it's a boring info dump and nobody likes that. But second of all, I don't need that information right now. I'm probably not going to remember it in 200 pages when it becomes important. So sometimes redistribution is all you need.


Megan: [00:08:33] Another thing to consider, which is very hard when you're on, like, the bad end of that one, is are you being accidentally offensive?


Megan: [00:08:41] Have you put something into your book that is hurtful to a certain section of our general world community, and that hopefully, if this happens, it's by accident? You didn't mean to use a word, a phrase, a concept that is damaging to a certain section of our world community and it can be hard to keep up with it. The world is changing. The world is evolving. If you're talking about people of color or the LGBTQ+ community, the...the terms that people want to be called and what is offensive, they do evolve over time. So if you read some books that were written by very enlightened and, you know, community-oriented people fifteen years ago, you read it now and you're like, "Woah! You should not be using that word. That is horrible." Because things have changed.


Megan: [00:09:28] So if someone comes to you and they say, "Hey, this is super offensive," don't take it out right away. Honestly, do some research. You can do research online. You can go to other members of that community and say, "Hey, did I do something wrong here?" For instance, there was recently a whole kerfuffle where there was one reader who told fantasy authors that they could no longer have fairies in their book because having fairies in their books was offensive to the LGBT community.


Megan: [00:09:59] And I'm not talking, like, anything like LGBT-oriented, like actual magical wings, wands, Tinkerbell, that kind of thing, fairies. And after talking to members of the community and doing research, that author figured out that, no, that's not actually offensive. There was just one person who was unhappy with that. And it sucks that that person was unhappy with it. But it's not actually an offensive thing. It's probably personal trauma. She probably was called bad, nasty things. And so to her, that word hurts, and that's awful.


Megan: [00:10:33] But it can't change the entire fantasy genre. So don't automatically just go through with a red pen and be like, "I did bad things! I did bad things!" Do a little bit of research. But if you do figure out that you have actually offended members of some community, members of your own community, perhaps then don't be a [bleep].


Megan: [00:10:53] Take it out of your book. It's not that hard. Just take whatever word, phrase, take it out of your book, because that is the way to start moving forward and making sure that we are a more inclusive and responsible profession as authors.


Megan: [00:11:10] So just cut it out. Edit. Republish. It's not that hard. And, you know, if you really piss people off, just say, I'm sorry, I was trying to be an ally, and I got it wrong. Make a nice tweet. Say you're genuinely sorry.  Do better in the future. But don't be a [bleep]. Take it out.


Megan: [00:11:28] And finally, most importantly, aside from don't be [bleep], because rule number one in life is don't be a [bleep], you'll get pretty far, is what I like to call the Eragon conundrum.


Megan: [00:11:40] So, let's say you've written this epic coming of age adventure. It's all about learning and growing and discovering who you are while you're doing harrowing things. And then someone offers you a contract for a Hollywood movie. They are going to make your coming of age book into this feature film and cut out all the coming of age aspects. There is literally going to be a flash of light in the sky, and then it's going to be "all grown up" time, let's go on an adventure. So it's not really your book anymore. Also, it makes no sense. Also, it's bad.


Megan: [00:12:15] So what do you really need for the heart of your story, for the core? What message are you trying to give? What are those little tiny bits at the center of it all that without it you're like, "This is not my book anymore"?


Megan: [00:12:29] Is it the romance? Is it the bond between the heroes? Is it the struggle to survive? What is that one little core piece that, without it, everything else falls apart? Is it that your hero's learning? Is it that they are becoming a hero out of their villainous past? What is it? What is that one centerpiece, the keystone of it all that if you don't have it, audience members sit in the movie theater and go, "Oh, no. Oh, no, oh, no, no"?


Megan: [00:13:07] So don't do that. Don't let agents, editors, beta readers, your mother, try and pull that keystone out of your story, because once it's gone, the whole thing's going to fall apart tragically, or, depending on how much money they're offering you, maybe let them pull it out. Because the Eragon movie was bad, but Christopher Palani took that check to the bank where he got to comfort himself with a lot of money.


Megan: [00:13:39] So, you know, maybe it is worth letting them destroy everything if you get lots of money and the fame of you having lots of money keeps you on Barnes and Noble shelves for years. That's a personal judgment call. Maybe judge, like, the paycheck with how much you want to preserve the integrity of your story because, you know, millions of dollars, integrity. Billions of dollars, integrity.


Megan: [00:14:03] It would be a personal choice at that point. But make sure you know what you can't lose without losing what your book is supposed to be.


Megan: [00:14:12] Now, there are lots of other problems that you're going to come across with people asking you to take things out of your book.


Megan: [00:14:17] Maybe they're saying you can't have any LGBTQ+ characters in your book. Maybe they're saying you can't use any "isms." Maybe they're saying absolutely no adverbs or any other words that end in "ly" even if they're not an adverb, who knows? It could be that they don't want characters to ever do anything dirty, even behind closed doors, and you thought you were writing erotica. Who knows what they could be asking you to cut? But understand that you as the author do have control. It is your book.


Megan: [00:14:51] Now, when you sign on with an agent and you sign in with an editor, you are giving away bits of that control as you go. So when you get a contract, that is something to think about. That's one of the perks of being an indie author. At the end, you control it all. Win, lose, whatever, it's all on your shoulders. So giving that up, you do have to sort of bend to your agent's and editor's and whatever as well.


Megan: [00:15:16] But know where you want to take a stand. If they say that no girls can wear pink in the whole book, does it matter? Can you cut the pink? If they say that girls are never allowed to be in a powerful position, then probably walk away and tweet about it and make sure that no one ever works with them ever again. But you have to know where the lines are drawn. So, consider that.


Megan: [00:15:43] And understand that writing a story is such a powerful thing and that you have power in your characters, you have power in the world that you have created, and it is a great and mighty treasure. And when someone asks you to gift them a little bit of that treasure, you are not begging them to take it from you. They are kindly requesting, and you can choose to grant the request or not at your own will, because you are in charge, and you are the artist, and artists are powerful.


Megan: [00:16:13] Until next time, may we all have a placid and uneventful week. Yep. I'll see you all next time.