I wrote for several hours the other night on the newest Women of Willow Bay book. Just wrote—didn’t stop to edit as I often do, didn’t take any breaks, didn’t even get up to go to the bathroom. I simply sat at my computer and the words poured out of my fingertips.
Well, today I reread what I’d written and about a quarter of it is worth hanging on to. The rest? Meh. Kinda demoralizing, but those couple of thousand words that won’t be included in the book led me to the next scene in the story. They brought me to a pivotal scene where Sarah first sees Willow Bay. This is her new refuge and this is where she first sees Tony—the man who’s going to win her heart, teach her to trust and love again, and who will fight for her as the story progresses.
So even though those words aren’t going to show up in the story, the writing of them served a purpose, as do all the words that are written and later cut during edits and revisions. Most writers know about killing off “our darlings”—the pages of scenes that get cut or rewritten in revisions. Just because a paragraph, a scene, or even an entire chapter gets cut doesn’t mean it’s not good writing. Truthfully, almost all my discarded scenes are good writing, they’re just unnecessary to the story, so I keep them in an "extras" file and who knows? They could turn up in another story or begin a new story or ... whatever. Frankly, I do that with a lot of loves scenes--write them and then take them out, so I have a "love scenes" folder that I can refer to if I'm having trouble finding words.
My editor always tells me to focus on the story—does the scene move the narrative along, does it serve the story? If not, it needs to go. Backstory generally doesn’t serve a purpose, even though I know ever-so-many readers who really love backstory. But flashbacks and info dumps don’t move the story forward, and sometimes, they make the story go backward or cause it to simply sit and spin its metaphorical wheels in the mud.
I think, of all the lessons I’ve learned at the knees of my editor and my critique partners, the one that’s been hardest to put into action is the “no info dumps, limit backstory and flashbacks” message. I don’t over-describe settings or characters, I don’t get bogged down in pointless dialogue, I don’t wander off into a tangent that has nothing to do with the scene at hand. But I do give my readers way, way too much information about my characters’ pasts and the situations that brought them together.
I believe I do it because I want my readers to understand exactly what’s going on in the story, but honestly, they do not need me to hold their hands as they begin my books. If the story begins when the action starts, then they’ll pick up whatever they need to know as the narrative goes along. That’s a tough one for me. How about you? Do you kill off a lot of your darlings in revision or do you write a pretty clean manuscript from the very beginning?