Originally, I was going to title this post killing your babies. This being a writing site, I was of course referring to your literary babies. But when I googled “killing your babies,” I decided maybe I’d come up with a different term. So let’s go with, “You Need to Hurt the Words You Love.” This is in answer to David Glenn, who asked, “What does an author do if there’s something (like a character or a situation) that they really want to put into their book, but it doesn’t do anything to help with the plot?”
The answer is probably not what he—or many of us want to hear. Have you ever come up with a great character, scene, or turn of phrase that you are absolutely dying to use ion a story? Maybe you even wrote it out, planning to use it at a certain point in your book, only to discover that as you wrote the story, that character, scene, or phrase didn’t really fit anymore.
You try to make it fit, like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters shoving and crunching their feet in a vain effort to slide into the glass slipper. But when your critique group, beta readers, or heaven forbid, your editor read it they nixed your baby. What to do? It’s a great scene. The character is so hilariously unpredictable. The sentence in a work of literary masterpiece.
I could beat around the bush here, but let’s be brutally honest. Cut it. Chop it. Kill it. Destroy it. Trying to keep a favorite scene that doesn’t fit into your story is like sticking an exotic orchid into a vase of daises. By itself it might be beautiful. Your character really might be as spectacular as you think she is (although she probably is not.) But it doesn’t matter. The orchid doesn’t fit among the daisies. Rather than adding to their beauty, it draws attention away from them in such a way that it actually harms the arrangement.
That’s what your “baby” does to your story. Even if you think you’ve camouflaged it well, the readers won’t be fooled. They’re reading an exciting beach thriller and unexpectedly come across a character that reads like something out of Lord of The Rings. Not only does the character seem out of place, but it pulls the reader out of the story that does fit.
More than one editor has suggested writers take their favorite line and cut it out of their books. That may seem extreme, but the reasoning is sound. If there is a particular scene or line which you love above the rest of your story, there’s a good chance it doesn’t fit with the rest of your writing.
Am I recommending that you cut out your favorite line? No. I’m not quite that heartless. But I do recommend that you look closely at anything that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the story, whether you hate it or love it. Keeping the reader “in” the story is much more important than the brilliance of any one piece.