3. Feedback & Revision
(viii) KILLING YOUR DARLINGS
It was William Faulkner who coined the phrase killing your darlings, and Stephen King repeated it. Brutal but true! The best bit of writing in the world may not be best for this particular novel. Give it the push!
It’s hard when you’re starting a writing career. First-novel syndrome is the tendency to pack every good idea you’ve ever had into your first novel. You just can’t bear to leave anything out.
I did it with The Dark Edge, which was actually my second novel, but the first one published by a mainstream publisher. I still regret the park-of-diseased-plants scene in Part IV, Chapter 3—not because it’s not good, but because it’s nowhere near as good as it should have been. The trouble was, it could only feature as one of several things going wrong on Planet P-19, and the narrative development didn’t leave much space to fit it in, So there it is, squashed into a single chapter … and wasted.
There are some wonderful ideas that just don’t belong in the particular novel you’re writing. Ask yourself: is the novel as a whole better by having this idea in it? is the idea better by appearing in the context of this novel? If there’s no mutual enhancement, then maybe this darling needs the Stephen King treatment.
The great thing about having a few novels under your belt is that you realise every good idea finds its true home in the end. You don’t have to shoehorn it in where it only half-belongs. Sooner or later, you’ll write another novel where it can flourish to its full potential.
When an editor suggests cutting some good idea out of a novel, naturally you want to spring to its defence. It’s like your own child. But a truly good idea is a sturdy and flexible organism. It won’t die from not being used---and you’ll be amazed how well it can adapt to new surroundings!