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Writing Tip: Cut All Your "Darlings"

When to cut scenes you love from your MS

· Writing

A few months ago, for the 1st 5 Pages Writing Workshop, I mercilessly cut a "darling" from my MS -- my opening chapter.

I loved it. Beta readers overwhelmingly loved it.

But agents reacted like it carried the pludney. This was pre-COVID, but yeah, that works as a simile, too.

I cut it and the reaction to the story has been markedly different ever since. Two agent requests, in the first two queries sent! Both passed, but it's been a heckuva ride, considering the rejections the MS got before this.

I did it after paying for a first-10 pages review from an agent, and while I miss it, the story wasn't harmed by cutting it. Sure, I had to rewrite a bit, but overall, it worked just fine without it. It needed minimal rewriting to smooth over a few rough edges, some more editing, but cutting it was almost ridiculously easy.

And that's key to know when to "cut your darlings." If you can exorcise a part of your MS, and the bloodshed is relatively minimal, great, go for it.

If the story makes sense without it, and you need to hit a word count, then go for it.

If you can read the story without it, just fine, and everything's all understood, even if only implied and the reader has to fill it in with his/her own imagination, go for it.

 

Cut that darling.

Now, this doesn't mean, don't write your darling in the first place. Get them out of your system. See it, ogle over it, wallow in it, but when it comes time to cut it, get out the scalpel.

Save it. I've seen self-published authors use these kinds of cut scenes to market / tease their books, entice email subscriptions, etc.

Now, finally this week, I followed through and cut a second darling -- my second-to-last chapter, after beta reader feedback.

I should have cut it sooner. I should've cut it as soon as I took out the first chapter.

Previously the story was "framed" by a different POV than the MC's.

Once I cut the first "frame" for the story, I should've cut the ending "frame" scene, as well. It was a three-page chapter. For some excellent film examples of "frames" used in storytelling, read this excellent post, How to Expertly Use (and Not Use) a Framing Device in Your Screenplay.

It's also a chapter that no one but me has ever loved. My alpha has never liked it, my betas tolerated it but asked if there were ways I could do without it. It needed to go; it no longer fit, and maybe it never really fit in the first place.

I'll always have it, saved in past versions. But as of today, it's outta there. Cut. Dead. Murdered. Whoopee!

The MS now ends on a decidedly optimistic note.

 

The world setting is still grim, but readers have no idea how grim it actually is. And perhaps that's a better ending, in a way. It's implied, and that's perhaps enough. The new ending leaves some possibilities open, props open some story doors, that perhaps I didn't want to shut before I found a home for this dark puppy.

It also slashes the word count by another 1,000, which is a relief. It's getting closer, every time I take another stab at it.

So my advice? If you can read the story, and understand what's going on without that "darling" scene, cut it. Just do it. See how it reads. Minimal editing to repair the damage? Do it.

Cut your darlings.

And never look back.

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