You may already be familiar with the Faulkner quote: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” but I bet you seldom find yourself shouting “Kill!” into the open book before you. Your sudden ire is unfortunate since you picked this book to help you relax and get away from your own crazy writing for a few hours. Overall, the book isn’t bad. It’s just…this scene.
You read on, growing more and more confused because—over the course of this lovely scene where two characters are sharing a pizza or whatever—nothing is happening. Sure, there’s dialogue and the author might argue some mild character development, but…no. The whole thing is nothing more than an excuse for two people to make eyes at each other and joke about cheese.
Okay, so maybe it doesn’t count as a “scene” because there is no goal, conflict, or disaster…but it’s not a “sequel” either. A sequel is the aftermath of a scene and includes a reaction, dilemma, and decision. None of that exists in happy-yummy-pizza world. The only reason these pages haven’t gone up in a glorious blaze is because the author can’t let them go. Then again, maybe the author isn’t aware of his or her own shortcomings.
Three things can help with this:
- reading a lot of good books on the craft of writing
- reading a lot of well-written books that exhibit these features (and books that fail to)
- critique, revise, rinse, repeat
If you are a writer working on a manuscript everyday, you are probably in love with it. That said, you need to accept that the book you’re writing may never meet with more than a few sets of eyes. But even if your book baby never “makes it,” tangling with the words can turn that project into a really good learning experience—a stepping stone on the road to possible success with a future book. This only works, however, if your process improves.
You can learn a lot from looking at a published book, but keep in mind, you are looking at a product. One cannot see the hours of planning, revision, reimagining, and re-revision the author went through to “finish” that product. That’s why we need the three-punch combo listed above. Read, apply, work toward mastery.
For most writers, the longest and most difficult part of the process is revision. Be your own worst enemy first—tear your writing to pieces and make a better monster out of what’s left. Then, get others to go through it with their own sharp eyes. Please, not your mom. She would love that pizza scene.
Writers, do you have a particular “darling” you had a hard time deleting? I’d love to hear about it!
Readers, is there a particular not-scene in a book you’ve read recently that makes you want to scream? Tell all below!
Michelle Joyce Bond