The Killing Becomes Easier

Posted: June 17, 2015 in Writing
Tags: , ,

Cute serial killer

You don’t need to call Homeland Security; I’m not talking about killing people. I’m talking about a writer killing one’s literary children – one’s work.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a lament about killing my babies, about finally coming to grips with the fact that I could no longer continue to patch and tuck and tweak my early chapters to make them better – I needed let them die an honorable death and replace them with something new. And I did that. I wrote a new chapter 1.

The problem was, I essentially wrote the same chapter all over again. I changed a lot of the details, moved it all to the same setting and on the same day, tightened it up and made the whole thing flow better. But in the end it was the same chapter.

I recently got invited to join an exclusive group for writers of speculative fiction, and signed on to their summer critique marathon. Then I dutifully fed my shiny new chapter 1 into the machine and sat back to await the applause.

The great thing about this group is that some of those participating in the critique marathon are accomplished writers, regular slush readers and/or frequent judges for some of those Twitter pitch contests I keep failing to win. So the feedback is really important; it’s a huge step up from the casual readers who have given me feedback to this point.

They didn’t exactly applaud. In fact, they told me to do it over. Twice. The first time I fell back into my old habits and performed surgery on my chapter – basically just rearranging the order of the scenes and turning most of the chapter into a flashback. They liked this even less.

Geez, tough crowd.

But I finally got it. I needed to start with a blank screen and compose a whole new chapter 1. The thing is, I could never have taken this step if I hadn’t taken all of the baby steps up to this point. Killing my baby the first time was really hard. But killing it the second time came much easier.

I just finished the first draft of the new chapter late last night (which is why this blog is late). I managed to:

  • completely change the motivation of my main character (which I was never satisfied with)
  • give her mom an actual believable reason to do what she does at the end of the chapter
  • define my main character more clearly and more in line with the rest of the book
  • give her an actual believable reason for accepting what Mom does at the end of the chapter
  • foreshadow more
  • spend MUCH less time on family and back story, and more time telling the actual story
  • create a much punchier and engaging first 250 words
  • cut 4 pages

Of course, this means I’ll need to amputate the first half of chapter 2 and write a completely new scene, and add a little of what I cut from chapter 1 to the beginning of chapter 4. But these were the chapters we originally wrote by the seat of our pants and without any real direction. All of the set-up that is no longer needed and all of that stuff that never led to anything will be trimmed. I expect the book to lose a couple of thousand words.

And each one will be easier to cut than the last.

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Comments
  1. Isn’t it wonderful when you get through that pain and it’s so much better? I tend to resist advice for a few days to a week. Then I think about it. Then I try it. And then I’m happy because the advice was spot on. This writing stuff is so much work on so many levels!

    Like

  2. nickewalsh says:

    Cool! Sounds productive and fun!

    Like

  3. […] The Killing Becomes Easier June 17, 2015 […]

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