Killing your sweethearts

One of the drawbacks of writing without an outline is that I think my way as I go. Which is fine if that place in the back of my head is keeping track of things, but this past year, the back of my head was busy with sick husbands, so that although I managed to write a book, it is a book that meanders rather more than one would want of a story intended to be tight and suspenseful.

In other words: Oh god, I thought YOU were driving.

So this rewrite is different from others. Mostly my rewrites aim at taking a bony 300 page first draft and putting flesh on it, so that it’s a balanced and comfortable 400 or so pages.

Not TOUCHSTONE. Going through it for the first time in months, I find six chapters made up of one conversation after another—great conversations, you understand, witty and revealing of character, but in the middle part of a sort-of thriller you don’t really want to be working on character, you want to have your already-well-established characters taking the bit between their teeth and pulling the reader along at a brisk pace.

Which means I’m busily killing my little sweethearts, shifting small portions and heartlessly mowing down page after page.

And because it’s such a painful process, I depend on two forms of analgesic. One, I copy the file and work on the copy, so if I change my mind, I can just dump the copy and be back where I started. Two, I don’t just delete the parts I’m chopping, I shift them into a file called Cuts, in the theory that when I’ve finished, I can go through the Cuts file and retrieve any true and priceless gems that really need to be placed back in the manuscript.

In practice, of course, I never go back to the original file, and I never find anything in Cuts that the book isn’t stronger without. However, it’s like a chess move that isn’t final until the fingers come off the piece: It’s reassuring to know that I can change my mind.

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  1. myninki on February 25, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    Why can we have both? In the books that is, the sweetheart that you are trying to kill and the bit o teeth pulling or so? Should make the book last longer…

  2. Roxanne on February 26, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Don’t you just love computers? I write/edit the same way: cut out those gems or “sweethearts” and paste them into another file, rather than losing them altogether.

    I remember the days when I used to write everything longhand on a legal pad, crossing things out and scribbling in between lines and in margins, to finally end up rewriting the page(s)–in longhand–because I could no longer read what I had written. I swore I would never do my writing on the computer; I felt that it would take away the creativity and/or the romance of the process. I look back now and shudder. Why did it take me so long to realize the benefits and beauty of the copy and paste function?

    Hey–it’s almost March. So here’s a question you can hold, if you like, until then: how serious were/are you about the autorickshaw trip in India?

  3. Carlina on February 26, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    I write just like that too! In fact that is how I have been writing my dissertation…albeit it is somewhat easier to rip the heart out of my non-existent skeletal characters anyway.

    I always keep a master, then a new file is made when I delete or add and the things I delete I paste in a junk file…wow…that is neat. I guess great minds think a like *cowers for the tomatoes* That is how I have been writing my publications as well. Works nicely! I also write my creative bits the same way!

    Yes…I worship copy, paste, undo and redo quite too much…I believe those icons are fast becoming idols for me.

  4. YourFireAnt on February 26, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Sounds like my “little darlings” folder. Except, with poetry [which is what I write], you go back and get them and make another poem with them. Or use them as a starter. Or take several of them, and ….

    And I snip them out of the page I’m revising, and put them into a manila folder.


  5. WDI on February 27, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    And I bet I’m not the only reader who would love to have a glimpse of the “dead sweetheart” file after the book is done — kind of like the deleted scenes on DVD releases.

    Just a thought 🙂

  6. Anonymous on March 1, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    I also keep a discard folder for all my writing projects. Mine has a lot less to do with saving any gems than it does with my general pack-rat tendencies. You’d think I’d grown up during the depression with all those old ladies who hoard used bits of tin foil and half-rotten rubber bands.

    I’ve never written a transcontinental, multi-chapter conversational passage, but I once looked back and discovered that some descriptive language had turned into a really bad 12-page Architectural Digest article on the house where story was set. Sigh.

  7. Aaron Paul Lazar on March 2, 2007 at 2:47 am

    Hi, Laurie.

    I’ve just discovered your blog and am delighted. Aside from the obvious, Oh-my-God-I’m-posting-to-LaurieKing’s-blog tremors, I’m thrilled to find you in this capacity.’Cause, you see, you’ve been keeping me company for many a night with every Mary Russell and Kate book since the beginning. ;o) I’m halfway through “The Art of Detection,” and am loving it. You’ve created a fascinating counterpoint between the Holmes manuscript and Kate’s narrative.

    Re. your post – I can so relate. I’ve written eleven mysteries and agonize through each one when I prune and cut and kill my sweethearts. I can’t let them go for good, it hurts too much. So, like you, I protect and coddle them in files of “maybe someday,” and feel a little less destroyed when it’s over.

    Thank you for your divine writing inspiration, hours of entertainment, and for your clever assortment of new blogs!

  8. TeartheRibbon on March 5, 2007 at 1:54 am

    Woah! This is why I love reading your blog. I write the same way. I can’ concentrate on an entire word document, so I always break pieces of and work on them, after copying the ENTIRE thing and making it doc.2 so I always have the original. Although yes, I do never go back. But it makes me feel better knowing they’re there!

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