We’re currently preparing to move and since we have to drag everything over 400 kilometers away, we’re busy getting rid of stuff. Getting rid of stuff is also good when writing.
Stephen King has the all-famous quote of killing your darlings, and what better way to get rid of stuff than to kill it off? It’s not (always) as easy as it sounds, but it’s achievable if you give the reins over to your logical side.
Take my comfy blue armchair, for example.
Emotional me: I’ve had it for ten years! Sure, it’s a little worn out, but ten years!
Logical me: No.
Emotional me: But-
Logical me: You haven’t sat on it in at least a year. Get rid of it.
And so we did.
The same thing happens with stories, more often than I’d like to admit. That one character, one scene, perhaps one location, keeps crawling up in the draft. It tries to say it’s important and cool and amazing, but if you shine a logical light on it, you realize it falls just a bit short. Maybe it’s an overused cliche you just happen to love. Maybe it’s a scene you thought would lift the story to another level but really just drags down the plot.
Your “darling” in the story can easily become like your favorite shirt. At first it fits you perfectly and people keep complimenting you. After a while you’re so comfortable in it, you don’t even realize the fabric has loosened and there’s a hole in the seam. Maybe you’ll cling to the shirt until a good friend finally dares to say the shirt hasn’t complimented you in ages.
We all have weak spots and an emotional side that loves to hang on to pretty much anything. Especially when it’s something you’ve created! Writing is a wonderful tool of creation, so it’s no wonder pieces of your story — or the whole story — soon become your darlings.
What to do?
Kick that emotional, all-loving (sometimes all-hating, mind you) side of you to the corner and let your logical side have a look. Your story needs a cold, hard look and a series of questions — does this really give something to the plot and the character arcs, or am I simply in love with it because it’s there? Sometimes a simple, beautiful blue sky is perfect on its own, without adding clouds and plains and that one character with the jet pack and…
Sometimes it truly is amazing, sometimes it needs a bit of tweaking, sometimes it’s actually better than you thought in your emotional craze, and sometimes you just have to get rid of it like an old armchair.
If your logical side seems to agree a bit too much with your emotional side, you might want to bring in a friend or a complete stranger. Their emotional sides won’t have the same attachment to your story, which makes them much better at giving criticism.
Just keep in mind that it’s your story. You make the ultimate decision. Changing everything based on feedback might sometimes be a good idea but it can also mean the resulting story is actually not yours at all. Not everything works, both in writing and feedback.
Do you ever get attached to parts of your story and won’t remove/change them even if you were advised to? How do you keep sure your own voice remains in the story while also making use of feedback and criticism?