Bye-Bye Birdie

This post isn’t about the musical (which I loved), but it is about a bird. Ever hear the phrase ‘Kill Your Darlings’? I don’t know if it originated in the writing world, but that’s where I hear it all the time. It means that, while in editing mode, you cut any sentence, paragraph, scene or chapter that doesn’t move your story forward. No matter how brilliant, insightful, historically rich, or funny you think it is. If it isn’t essential to the story then it’s slowing your pacing. Cut it out. Kill your darling.

Yesterday, I killed a bird.

Two days ago I received the revision letter for the first book in THE CHAMELEON CHRONICLE series. I have quite a bit of work to do, all of it sure to make the story sparkle, but it’s kind of intense. Plus I’m knee-deep in writing my next western. I feel a little skitso, but I’ll survive. If I don’t blog as regularly, you’ll know why. Anyway, one of the comments my editor made was that I spent an awful lot of time introducing the heroine’s friends and her bird, Babaloo, and just getting my heroine to the airport—where the story really takes-off. (No pun intended).

So I sharpened my editor’s scissors and opened the manuscript. I’ve been away from it for two months. Amazing how distance can afford better perspective. I approached the manuscript as a reader, not the author--meaning I checked my ego at the door. If something wasn’t essential to this story—snip, snip, snip. Out of the first forty pages, I cut a total of ten.

The chapter with the girlfriends—gone. I saved two important sentences, essential info, to be weaved in somewhere else.

The drive to Evie’s home so she can pack—gone. The important thing in that scene is a phone call with her ex. Now she’s having it on her way to the airport.

Four pages of Evie lamenting her sucky life—gone. I’d already established her professional and personal crisis in the first two chapters. Basically, I was repeating myself. Still, this was one of the hardest things to cut because there were so many (at least I thought so) funny lines. But I killed my darlings for the sake of the story. Must. Be. Done. SNIP!

So what about the bird? you ask. Babaloo, that was his name. A beautiful blue and gold Macaw whose vocabulary was as colorful as his plumage. Babaloo was Evie’s pet bird, and I mentioned him quite a bit throughout the story. But the reader never meets him in book one because Evie’s away on an adventure. I thought about it. Hmm. She’s going away for another adventure in book two. And book three. So, each time she’s going to have to leave Babaloo with a friend… or give him away. I couldn’t part one with of my pets, and Evie’s got a lot of me in her so… I wrote to my editor. “I think I need to kill Babaloo.” She wrote back that, though she hated to say goodbye to the charming creature, it was probably for the best.

Snip! SQUAWK!

Rest in peace, Babaloo.

Comments

Tori Lennox said…
My 1920s amateur sleuth heroine has a dog who's pretty useless, overall. Except he's the first to discover the body. But after that he sort of falls into a black hole. Must figure out how to work him into the story more...
Caro said…
I just took the first 7,500 words of my current work and tossed it out the window. This includes the image which originally sparked this idea. I cut the irritating secretary of the heroine's boss who really didn't add to the story (except to let me take a few jabs at a co-worker). Shave here, trim there.

I ended up doing this because I wrote a scene that I knew had to take place earlier in the book and in doing so I've ended up rewriting most of what currently exists as the change ripples forward. It's tighter, more dramatic -- but I miss some of those darlings.
Bethany said…
First-- this post is hilarious. And so true. I am crying it is so true. Why do we spend hours writing scenes that don't get us anywhere? Please tell me, because in my rewrite, I am in the midst of cutting. How many hours did I craft those scenes? :-)
Beth Ciotta said…
Tori, have you watch the classic film, The Thin Man and its sequels? They feature Nick and Nora Charles: a former detective and his rich, playful wife and their dog Asta. The writer(s) make great use of that nutty dog!

I had great plans for Babaloo when I conceived him, but alas as the series developed, he didn't. Otherwise I would have kept him. Good lunch pulling your pooch out of that black hole!
Beth Ciotta said…
Congrats on the cuts, Caro. Sounds like you have a new vision and you're on a roll. Good luck! I do know what you mean about the ripple effect. On that note, I'm being very careful not to cut anything that ripples forward down the line, and if it does, I make a note that if I DO cut it early on , I need to re-weave in that thought/info somewhere else. Right now I'm doing edits in track changes, so nothing is truly lost. A good way to double check myself.
Beth Ciotta said…
Good grief, Tori! I just saw that I told you "Good lunch..." I meant "Good luck!" *rolling eyes* Although I wish you a nice lunch as well. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Bethany, if you're a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer (like me) then I think sometimes we write those scenes because there's something we need to know about the character or the story at that time. However, it doesn't always mean we need that scene (no matter how well crafted) when all is said and done. Don't look at it as wasted effort, but practice. :) Good luck!
Anna Lucia said…
Well done, Beth! It's so hard to kill those darlings, but it definitely needs to be done...
Gabriele C. said…
Beth, about the pantster writers - I'm an outliner but I suppose I could count all those many words I put in my outlines, freewriting character bios, and scenes that I know will never end in the book and which I write just to get a feeling for the setting etc. there. If I added them in the books good pantster style, I'd have to delete as much as you. :)

I just cut two chapters from Kings and Rebels (the first book I wrote without an outline) because they introduce some characters that will never appear again, and an unsolved conflict that wasn't going to be solved. Though they have some stunning Icelandic scenery. Loved the scenery and the action, but I can save the holmgang and the nightly flight by transfering them to Norway and replacing the useless characters with some that will play a role later on. About a third of the former version, but a lot better.

And the Norvegian mountains and fjords aren't that bad as scenery, either. ;)
Roni said…
Good for you in managing to revise on your own Beth! It's hard to cut, isn't it? I have to do it often. As for the bird...he sounds charming, so I'd keep him for another book! Maybe in another series! BTW I used to enjoy the shows McMillan & Wife and Hart to Hart, and I've read that both were loosely based on The Thin Man. Abnd I'd still like to see you eventually do more Atlantic City books!
Arianna Hart said…
Poor Beth!
I hate it when that happens. Maybe you can do an on line story about him on your website? Sort of a director's cut or deleted scenes type thing. . .

And I hear you on skitso. . . two sets of edits on two different books, two synopsises to write oh yeah, and the girls are on vacation this week. Just call me Sybill. ..
Beth Ciotta said…
Gabriele, sounds like you work a lot like my friend and CP, Cyndi. Yes, of course all that pre-writing counts. I mean, you spend all that time and it never makes the cut. It's the same as being deleted!

Interesting, what you said about cutting charcaters that essentially went nowhere. I attended a workshop taught by agent Donald Mass. He talked about making every charater count. About cutting out minor characters who really only mucked up the story. He also suggested sometimes combining characters. I just did that in my western which is brimming with a bazillion secondary characters. Trimmed and combined. Good luck with 'Kings and Rebels'. LOVE that title!
Beth Ciotta said…
Roni, you just made me feel oh so nostalgic! I loved McMillian and wife AND Hart to Hart. Had no idea they were loosely based on the Thin Man. :)

Ari... you never ever stop, you oh-wondrous-juggler. be seeing you sooon. RT is less than a month away!
Taylor said…
I think Babaloo could be a phoenix. I mean, let's say the book's a BIG HIT: Can we say "The Chameleon Chronicles: The Director's Cut"?! I enjoy seeing movies I already love with a lil more pulp to them, and books rarely do this. Have Babaloo rise from the ashes by reselling it as "The Original Complete Novel"! I'm a sucker for promotions like that ("The Illustrated Edition", etc.). Think about it Beth. I still have a little bit of hope that Babaloo ain't completely gone and buried.
Gabriele C. said…
Hehe, I've cut the characters from 135 down to 83 but it's still a lot of them running around.

But then, the book is epic in scope, and if I combine all the characters from the three books that make the Endangered Frontiers series, I'll have some 120 there as well.
Gabriele C. said…
BTW I have a bit of a problem with that series now I think about it. The three books are planned as standalones connected by historical background and setting as well as some characters - mostly minor ones - that appear in two or three books. Plus cameos of major characters.

But for a reader who picks one book, all those characters are new, no matter that fe. Ivarus aka Yffa, the Gothic ex-gladiator and leader of a gang of somewhat unsavoury poeple in Rome plays a small but important role in all three books, or the slave Rabanus who is in some 4 or 5 scene in The Charioteer, appears in Lady Physician as free man in 2 or 3 scenes, and in one albeit important scene in Towards the Kingdom of Tolosa. Only readers who know all the books will recognise those characters.

An example for a cameo. The young Goth Alamir who gives Ciaran, the MC from The Charioteer, just escaped out of Rome, a horse and money so he can travel back home to Britain, is a MC from Towards the Kingdom of Tolosa. But for a reader of TC he's just another minor character. So is Ciaran for a reader of TtKoT.

How do writers deal with that?
Beth Ciotta said…
Taylor, love the 'Director's Cut' idea. Ari mentioned the same thing and believe me it's on my mind. Perhaps Babaloo WILL rise again. ;0)
Beth Ciotta said…
Gabriele, this is my personal take only, but even though the books are connected, you want them to read as stand alones as well. Therefore recurring characters need to stand alone as well. In other words, in each book make sure it's clear who each character is and how they are relevant to that story (and/or maybe series). It doesn't have to be a lengthy explanation, just enough to root the reader. Good luck!
Gabriele C. said…
Yes, I think that's the way to go, to make them stand out as characters in some way even if they play a minor role.

I think I'll pester PBW about that on Friday. Just for the fun of it and because seldom ask a question. :-)
Stacie said…
I have been away entirely too long! I'm on Spring Break and finally have time to catch up on everyone's blogs...

I actually enjoy all the editing. I'm doing it constantly on all sorts of writing assignments, etc.

When I was at the library the other day, I noticed all the copies of your books were checked out except for a well-read Seduced. (Which happens to be the only one of your books my local BAM carries, but we won't get in to that...)

Now, back to more "catching up"!
Wynn Bexton said…
Cutting is sort of like severing a body part but it's necessary and I know I have lots of cutting to do on my epic novel. But speaking of the bird: I thought you meant a real one. Because actually I had given serious thought to making soup out of my cockatiel the other week when he wouldn't stop shrieking endlessly (he was mad at me because I'd been away and left him with strangers). I wondered how in the world I would continue living with him, let alone concentrate on writing if he didn't shut up. Had to resort to bird psychology and firm measures and so far I think it's working. He does like to hang out on my shoudler when I'm writing though and that is sometimes annoying!
Beth Ciotta said…
Gabriele, good idea about running that on by PBW. I'd be interested on her take.

Stacie!!!!! You have been missed. Did you see the note I left on your tag board the other day. Glad everything is ok and that you were just enjoying spring break. ;) And thanks for the library report. Very cool!
Beth Ciotta said…
Hi Wynn! I recognize you from Scott's blog. Thanks for stopping by. Your bird story is a hoot. Okay. I know it wasn't funny at the time. I have a dog who sometimes has barking spells... while I'm writing. Makes me want to come out of my skin. Anyway, I'm glad you soothed rather than strangled your birdie. Love the image of him sitting on your shoulder while you write. :) Good luck with the editing of your epic!
Tori Lennox said…
I love the Thin Man movies! Maybe I should watch them for some inspiration...
Beth Ciotta said…
I should have known you'd be familiar with The Thin man series, Tori. Those movies rock! Just might have to watch again someday soon myself. Wishing you inspiration!

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