Escaping the Darling Hitman

I understand the concept of throwing out scenes that aren't moving the story forward.  Hell, I've thrown out nearly entire drafts for some of my revisions.  I can flat out kill those big ole chunks of manuscript with the best of them. 

I have a harder time with my literary darlings.  Those little lines that evoke an image or theme, that snappy piece of dialogue that made me laugh when I wrote it.  I figure if I love it, maybe someone else will love it too.

But then, I am an overwriter.  And old habits are hard to break.

Really hard.

Sometimes I just can't stop myself.

I get really attached to those little suckers.  That little bitty adverb isn't hurting anyone, is it?  And that metaphor about adrenaline junkies?  It seemed so perfect at the time.
I mean how do you know when a adjective is just right, or when it crosses the line into overwrought prose that weighs the story down?  It's hard step far enough back to gain some objectivity and still be able to make out the individual trees in the forest well enough to trim with any precision.  (What? Too much?)

My solution:  The Darling Hitman.

Yes, that's right, I delegate my wet work.  I rely on a trusted reader to point out when a line isn't working or when I get carried away.  For a small fee, usually involving wine, this reader will mark up my manuscript with a red pen, and invariably point out lines that are repetitive, boring, or just plain overdone.

But I don't give my hitman carte blanche.  I use his feedback to direct me to lines that need a second look.  My hitman knows his stuff, so most of the time, I make the cut.  Occasionally, I review a line and decide that there is a justification for keeping it.  Ultimately, the decision of whether a line lives or dies is still mine, but I find I can be more objective when someone else calls it out.

And what the hitman doesn't catch?  My line editor usually will.

Even then, I have been known to fight to keep a line that I love.

In Silver, when Brianna's meets two supernatural characters that talk like stoners, she makes this observation:  "So apparently, Harold and Kumar go to the spirit realm."  This line cracked me up when I wrote it, and it came in a lighter scene where humor was needed.  My line editor suggested we cut it because she wasn't sure it was working.

Was the line necessary to the scene?  No.  It could easily be cut. And that right there is the dilemma.  Sometimes, those "darlings" are what give your writing that elusive quality known as voice.  I loved that line, and I trusted that readers would too.  So I kept it.  And I don't regret it.

There is another scene in Silver where a character describes a sexual incident involving another character.  It's shocking to some readers (although it was realistic to me) and I knew it would be.  The hitman suggested it was too "loud" and, I could accomplish the goal of the scene (revealing the character of the two participants) another way.  I decided I liked it the way it was, but would reconsider if any of my editors raised it as an issue.  They never did, and the scene remained unchanged.  Now, I'm second-guessing myself, wondering if the choice was worth alienating some more conservative readers.  I still don't know if I made the right decision, but I still love that little scene.  No regrets there either.

So, while I think it is important to take a close look at your work and make decisions about whether every line or word needs to be there, the decision is still yours.  Do solicit feedback from people who can be more objective than you.  Do pay careful attention to said feedback, taking a close look at the issues described.  Then make a judgment call.  If you decide to keep the line anyway, make sure you understand why.  Then move on.


Good advice, Talia, and good timing!

Awesome image of a darling hitman. I picture him - or her! - wielding a computer mouse over the "strikethrough" formatting option.

Oh, and I've got a question/topic for y'all - any tips/advice on plotting a book with alternating POV (cough, cough, VERONICA)? I know there's no "right" way to do anything in writing, but I'd love your take on it. Thanks!

I think the interesting thing about having your own voice in writing is that you understand all of your own references, but sometimes other people might not. I've definitely been thrown off reading something in a story and not knowing what it's referencing to. But the great thing about most writing is that even if there is a reference you can't follow, you might not even know it's a reference. Whats helpful in these situations, especially if it's in a dystopian or science fiction story, there's bound to be terms or references that don't make sense. The whole world is different! And I think those small references that bring us back to reality is what keeps those fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian novels in check. We have to have something to draw us back to ourselves.

The Harold and Kumar reference makes me THAT more excited to read your book!

Thanks for sharing :)

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