Saturday, March 3, 2012

Death of a Darling

Recently I entered the LDStorymakers First Chapter contest. It was a good thing I was wearing my adult undergarments that week because I was feeling the pressure. That said, it was an experience that taught me very valuable lessons and even if I don't win, my writing is better because of it.

Here's what happened.

One night during LTUE I checked the LDStorymakers website and realized the deadline for their First Chapter contest was one week away.

Drat I thought. I really wanted to enter that. Can I get my first chapter polished in one week?

I thought I could. It was pretty much finished anyway. That's when the first monkey-wrench hit me.

I would need to have my polished version ready for an editor in just two days. And then, of course, find an editor that could knock the rough corners off in a couple days so I had the last 24 hours to make the suggested improvements. My friend Jo gave me the biggest hitch of all: the contest has a 3,000 word limit and my first chapter was coming in at just under 5,000.

Well, with the encouragement of my wife and writing group, I decided to go for it. Nothing ventured and all that.

The first two days were hard. I made several improvements and came to a hard choice. Would I cut the chapter at the 3,000 word mark and revise from there? Or would I fix the chapter to fit the word count? I was prepared to hold the line at the 3,000 mark when my friend Bob strongly suggested that I keep the whole chapter and restructure it to fit. He said it just worked better that way.

The big problem was that I felt he was right.

I needed to cut and I needed to cut hard. I had to lose four pages in a twelve page chapter. Was it even possible? I didn't think it was, but I knew I had to try.

So, during my lunch break at work, I looked at the parts of the chapter and how much space they were taking up. I found some interesting figures:

World/Character Introduction: 3.2 pages
Marching Into Battle: 1.0 pages
Battle: 3.4 pages
Retreat: 0.4 pages
Second Battle: 2.5 pages
Resolution: 1.5 pages

What it came down to was that I could only have eight pages and the introduction and first assault only left a page and a half for anything else. It seemed obvious where I needed to cut. There was only one problem at that point.

My darlings.

Several people have been credited with creating the phrase, "Murder your darlings." A phrase that refers to cutting all the best bits of your story that NEED to be cut. Sure, you may think they're irreplaceable, but they're not and usually they're breaking your story.

Well, my writing group came through in aces and suggested all the grammar that I needed to fix in addition to several other awesome ideas. Best of all, twenty-four hours before I needed to submit, I realized why the first battle scene never worked. Why it always seemed clunky.

So I revised it. And I cut and cut. Until only one darling remained; the end of the first battle that I thought was wonderful. I just had to work it in. How did the chapter read with my remaining darling?

Terrible! Even I had to agree that it stunk on ice. So much of the original scene had changed that my remaining darling, which took half a page, didn't fit and had to go (Even though I liked the character so much, I plan on keeping him for another day).

Is my chapter better now? I think so, but I'll know for sure if I get positive reviews in May. I still wish I'd had more time for editing.

As for now, the pain of the red ink is still too fresh to be entirely sure.


  1. Tony. I'd love to see it again, now that it has been cut to ribbons--and sized for submission. Send it to me.


  2. Hopefully it reads well! If not, keep the old chapter! I wanted to enter that contest too, but there was no way I was whittling my 8k chapter to 3k! (And 8k is too long for a first chapter, mind you. Something I may fix someday...)


Popular Posts