K … is for Killing

K[1]

is for killing. I am talking here of ‘killing your darlings’ of course. It’s how we writers normally refer to reducing the cast in a story.

In either novel or short story writing, we find ourselves lavishing hours on the creation of well-rounded, believable characters, which is exactly how it should be. A novel will have the capacity to allow for a large cast, whereas a short story is best trimmed down to five or less characters.

Where the novel usually has a longer time scale, it is able to convey a larger number of characters. A short story, by its nature, is created to fit a short time frame, and there is therefore no facility for a cast of thousands. The fewer, the better is the advice in a short story.

Whatever I’m writing, I tend to create each character with a comprehensive profile, even though I may only use a little of the information if it’s a short story. In a novel, with a similar character, I might drip-feed small pieces of information throughout the story. Be it a novel or a short story, I invariably end up with more characters than I need to get the job done, so in that circumstance, I ‘kill my darlings’.

The phrase is borne of the fact that we get to know our creations so well that we are reluctant to remove them. We have grown to like them, to feel a relationship with them, but to be in a story, they must earn their place. If when editing a story, you find a character that doesn’t move the story forward; that character has to go. It’s heart-breaking, I know, but we must be realistic.

I’ve made peace with myself by having a parallel universe in my files. I have a file full of people, already invented, but not yet put to use. There is a pregnant woman in her 20’s, a retired policeman, an old war veteran, and many more. They all get along perfectly well in that file, but perhaps one day a couple of them will meet in other circumstances and things will not be so good.

What is today’s advice then?

Use as much care as always to create believable characters, but please remember, don’t shoe-horn a character into a story just because you like them. When you edit, you are looking for extra characters as well as extra punctuation, adjectives, adverbs and all the other things that should be removed. Happy hunting my murderous friends.

Thank you for reading. I’m off on my daily blog patrol now, and I’ll be back on Monday, with an ‘L’ of a word.

E … is for edit.

E[1]   is for edit. edit, edit, and edit again. We as writers, are all aiming for one thing when we edit our work; excellence. Okay, we may not reach that elusive goal, but we owe it to ourselves, and our readers, to strive for it.

My method isn’t going to suit everybody, but it works for me. Consider the document referred to in the following guide to  be a short story.

1. I write the entire document, from beginning to end as rapidly as possible, including excessive imagery, excess adjectives, bad grammar and scant regard for punctuation. I must get the idea out of my head onto the screen (or paper).

2. I spend a little time afterwards, reading it through to see if I’ve got the best intro. In the majority of cases, the ‘intro’ is somewhere later within the story, just waiting for me to discover it. The intro must have action, and I aim to have a hook within the first 30 words.

3. I save the document, and ignore it for a few days.

4. I open it again and read it through, and then deal with the excess elements, including words or whole sentences, that are not taking the story forward.

5. I print it out, then read it aloud and edit with a red pen.

6. Using the red pen edit, I amend the document on screen, save it, and leave it.

7. I wait at least a couple of days, or longer if possible and then get it out again, but this time, I do a diagnostic check with my punctuation and grammar programme.

8. I read it aloud, and if I’m happy with it, I publish it.

9. If it’s a competition entry, I double-check the Rules of Entry. I check that I’ve met all the criteria; word count, spacing, cover page, personal details, closing date, and so on.

10. I send the completed document / entry fee and get on with another project.

Novel writing is a different discipline.

I adapt my editing techniques to work on individual chapters of my novels. As a rule, I completely re-write my novels at least five times. Less than five drafts before publishing a novel equals laziness, and a lack of respect for the reader. The longer break that can be left between drafts, the better the end product will be.   What the F … ? You’ll find out tomorrow.

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