Writing on Wednesday: (Not) Killing My Darling

lolcat_great_american_novel-300x199Last October I shared some of the feedback from the editor I was working with on revisions to my novel, Cherry Bomb. I also shared a sort of timeline of how the novel had been progressing. This was as much for myself as for my readers—to get a perspective on how the project was moving along. In December the agent who has shown interest in the book agreed to find a different editor to help me with this next round of revisions. I was just not feeling a good connection with the previous editor. Just before Christmas I received the new assessment. With the holidays, some illness and travel and other distractions, I’ve managed to put off this work until this week. Yesterday I spent several hours getting back into the book, and it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done.

I do think this new editor “gets” what I’m trying to say with the book, although there are some big suggestions that I just can’t work with. For my writer friends who read this blog, let me first share some of her encouraging words, because God knows we all need that to help us get through the hard stuff!

This novel is well-written, visually descriptive, and the worlds we enter are quite fascinating…. The novel seems well-researched, as well, and there’s a sense of authorial confidence in writing about these subjects. The reader wonders how these intriguing worlds will collide, and when that finally happens toward the end of the novel, the catharsis is moving and both surprising and inevitable-seeming.

I should probably print off that paragraph and tape it up beside my computer for encouragement when I’m pulling my hair out trying to do these revisions! Here are a few examples of the editors’ suggestions. I’ll start with the ones I’m probably NOT going to follow:

kill-your-darlingsDelete one of the three main characters altogether. This character—“Neema”—is the fictionalized version of St. Mary of Egypt, and she is crucial to the book. The editor wants her to only be part of the backstory. I know William Faulkner (and later Stephen King) said you have to “kill your darlings” at times, but this one is not going away. (And she has three chapters from her point of view—the very chapters the previous editor said were the strongest chapters.) What will I do instead? Follow the editor’s second suggestion for this character and find ways to integrate her into the lives of the other two main characters.

“The fact that there is an opera about Mary of Egypt strains believability.” The editor suggests I cut the scene where Elaine and Mare go to Atlanta to see this opera—that it seems too coincidental. If the editor had Googled this opera she would have discovered that it’s not fictional. It is an actual opera composed by John Tavener. I have the CD and love the music. But I’m not leaving it in just because I love it—I believe it adds to the richness of the story.

Now, here are a few suggestions I AM going to follow:

Re-structure the novel chronologically, incorporating some of the flashbacks later in the novel. Too much is revealed too soon.

Tone down the sexual abuse scenes. At one point the editor says, “… many readers would find this material too troubling to continue to read, which would be a shame because there is so much to recommend about the world of this novel.” At least two of my “early readers” have said the same thing, so I’m going to work on these sections.

Flesh out Mare’s life at SCAD by expanding on her relationships with other students and creating more subplots.

Change one chapter from Elaine to Mare’s point of view. I understand why and this won’t be hard to do.

Make the characters’ physical descriptions stronger. The editor praises the descriptions of the setting, but the characters need to be more vividly drawn.

There are dozens more very specific suggestions that I’m working to incorporate. Did I mention my brain hurts?


So that’s a look into my writing world this week. Check back next Wednesday to see if I’m surviving!

6 thoughts on “Writing on Wednesday: (Not) Killing My Darling”

  1. I hope you be very careful about the sex abuse scenes. I strongly believe that readers should be disturbed about sex abuse. The more we avoid talking about it or minimizing the effect of it, the longer it will remain an unacknowledged issue.
    I know this will be difficult, but I also know you can find the right balance.

    1. Thanks so much for this, Joe. I have really struggled with this, and I believe I’ve found a balance. I agree with you that the scenes need to be disturbing, but the editor just wants me to be sure they don’t distract the reader too much from the novel as a whole. This has been a difficult editing process.

  2. Although I don’t know much about opera, I know Tavener as a composer of church music. Maybe you can work in references to Tavener and his music earlier in the book, so that it doesn’t seem to “strain believability” to attend the opera as your new editor suggests. Maybe one of the women is an aficionado of Tavener and educates the other about the opera before they attend – or a Tavener anthem is sung at a service or she listens to the CD or whatever.

    I apologize if I am totally off-base, as I am not a novelist and am only just beginning to learn about editing my poetry, but I remember that you also needed to add length and writing about the opera would give you another way to flesh out/resonate with Neema, given her relationship to St. Mary of Egypt.

  3. Thank you again for sharing your revision process. It’s not often that we writers do that…I love that you’re taking the editor’s notes under advisement without allowing her to snatch the pen out of your hand.

    There’s a fine line between going dark and taking up residence in that shadowy place. I trust you’ll be able to lead us through those sex abuse scenes in a way that reminds us of the light that awaits us at the other end.

  4. Thanks for this very honest post that details the revision process!! It’s great for other writers to see the ups and downs of revising! I think you’ve hit a good balance between going with your writer’s gut and following the editor’s suggestions.

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