This week, I killed my darlings.

I’ve been making up for all the writing I didn’t do while I was away. Oh boy, have I ever.

  1. I had an epiphany about The Celestial Kris last night. Not like a little ‘aha’ – a big, gasping, sit-bolt-upright-in-bed, ‘OH MY GOD‘ epiphany.

See, when I set out to write TCK, I was thinking that my main theme was going to be climate change and pollution. But then I got closer to the characters: the depressed shaman, the conflicted lesbian water-bender, the innocent giant caught between two cultures, the shapeshifter who has to fight his animal side to stay human.

And I got deeper into the rules for what a soul is in the world of this story, and what a demon is. One day, I was researching about krisses – Malaysian daggers – and I found out that they’re supposed to be made of the five elements of nature: earth, water, wind, fire and ‘me’ (ie, a soul). So I happened upon this idea that if a soul is the part of a person that says ‘me’, then the demons (which weren’t made by the gods) weren’t going to have that. The demons talk, though, so they always refer to themselves in first-person plural.

Anyway, what made me sit up was the realisation that this is really a book about identity. All YA stories are about identity in one way or another, but all four of my heroes are so internally conflicted, and the story so focused on what makes a ‘me’, that this is really my Big Theme of the Book.

Just goes to show, it can be hard to know your theme until you’re well into the work.


2. I’ve been looking for ways to trim Anomalies down to a more reasonable length.  And, surprisingly, I’ve cut just over 20,000 words, bringing it closer to the 70,000 mark.

Parts of it haven’t been easy. There have been many times when I’ve sat there with my head in my hands, muttering, ‘I can’t delete that bit. I love that bit.’ Then a stern part of me has said, ‘Why do you love it? That bit doesn’t do anything that you haven’t already said in Chapter Seven.’

And then I delete it.

This is what’s known as ‘murdering your darlings’ – an expression coined about a century ago by writer and lecturer Arthur Quiller-Couch, which has since been shortened even further to ‘kill your darlings’.

I use a couple of tricks to ease the pain of this kind of ruthless editing. The first is that I keep a long copy and a short copy. I’ve called them full manuscript and slash and burn. In the former, I keep all my lovingly described worldbuilding, the tangential inner monologues, the cute moments between characters that don’t really drive the plot. In the latter, I treat editing as an experiment: what happens to the story if I delete this word? This sentence? The whole of Chapter 25?

Frequently, the answer is simply ‘it gets shorter’. Which means the story moves along faster. Which, in my case, is good. If there is something important in the part I’m looking to delete, I ask myself another question: is there another scene, perhaps even a similar scene, that can absorb this plot point? And sometimes, there is.

It helps that none of this is final yet, of course. I haven’t heard results of the Ampersand Prize. I haven’t run it by anybody: I’ve deleted that plot thread about his dead mother’s medallion. But it makes me excited. I’m working on this crazy, inventive, dark book again, reliving the scenes I love (the street chase!) and rewriting the ones I don’t (the masked gunman bursts out of the laundry).

It’s good to be back.

Thoughts? Questions? Pipe up in the comments!


2 thoughts on “This week, I killed my darlings.

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