Let's talk about how brutal editing can be sometimes. Every author, published or not, has flaws. Favorite crutch words, flowery prose, overuse of metaphors, twitchy characters whose eyebrows have a life of their own...you name it, an author somewhere is addicted to it. And if we could look at their first drafts, we could see those flaws.
So we edit. In commercial fiction, we clear away the unnecessary. Prose can be beautiful, but it ought to have meaning and importance as well. An author or editor takes those rough spots and refines them. But not everything can be saved. And more importantly, not everything is worth saving. That's where the concept of "killing your darlings" comes in.
In editing, killing your darlings doesn't mean killing off characters you like--although sometimes murdering off a side character might be necessary. Think of it like gardening. Your first draft is a tree that's grown out of control, and you want to trim it back into its intended shape. Cutting out crutch words is like trimming off leaves, one by one. It doesn't do much for the overall shape, but the plant is healthier for it. Toning down rambling, flowery passages or strings of metaphors is like cutting back some of the branches that are poking out of the top, going every which way. (And yes, I see the irony of using an extended metaphor here.)
Hopefully that type of editing isn't too painful, because we haven't gotten to the real pruning yet. Sometimes, you'll look at your story and realize that a subplot is taking away from the story, instead of adding to it. Or maybe a favorite scene isn't doing anything to move the story along. Or that nifty solution your character was going to use to get past their crisis point has a gaping hole in it, but your heart is still set on the original idea.
This is when you need to harden up your heart a bit and kill those darlings. (ALWAYS save your work before you start; save the pieces you cut in a separate document, because they might be useful in another scene later.)
If you're keeping a story element only because you like it, and it doesn't further the plot action or the character's emotional arc, then it's probably time to cut it.
It hurts to give up those pieces. But when you do, it opens the real story up. To go back to the tree metaphor, this is when you chop off the diseased branches, or the ones that are splitting off from the main trunk and pulling strength away from the roots. Once you cut them, the tree can grow strong and straight again, and flower or fruit. Do your story a favor. Dive in with your editing gloves on, and look at each scene to see if it really belongs in the story. If it doesn't, it might be time for murder.
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!