Difficult Story Choices #2

I knew it was coming.

I didn’t want to admit it. I figured if I kept these parts in the book, eventually I’d find a way to make the passages work.

But the writer knows. You know when it’s not going to work long before you concede the reality.

And then about a week ago, I wrote this note which sealed their fate: “Repurposing these words to the Elf would move the Dragon to Samor Book 2; at which point all the other Dragon stuff could be moved out. I’ve been struggling with their purpose for a while.”

Even then, it took a few more days before I started yanking stuff from the manuscript. I once again followed the advice of Stephen King, who was borrowing from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch:

Murder your darlings

It wasn’t the first time I’d removed an important character. In Tildy’s book, I removed a knight when I saw that he was undermining Tildy and the witch before I’d established just how capable these women were. I also talked about another difficult decision here: Tearing down one of your primary set pieces. In this second example, I was able to rework the text to overcome my concerns. As for the first, I moved the knight into Tildy’s Book Two, and I like him better there.

My Dragons followed the knight’s example and departed for a future book. It’s the best of both worlds. I improve the book I’m writing, but still get to return to characters I’m invested in.

Now, 6,000 words lighter, Samor’s first adventure no longer features them, aside from acknowledging their place in the world of Malthreare. But here’s the thing: “features” is too strong a word. Their passages were on the page, but they weren’t incorporated in the story. Samor’s adventure, which meandered and morphed considerably over the last year, didn’t see those Dragons anywhere along the way. Even the sections where they appeared, and there were three, were loosely connected at best. I’d previously tried to force an appearance with a new section, but rejected it almost as soon as I wrote it.

I was like a seamstress making a coat, but one with more pockets than was practical.

In hindsight, it reminds me of the Eagles in Lord of the Rings. They’re introduced, but not used again until the end, though they would have been very helpful shortening Frodo’s journey. In my draft, the Dragons didn’t drop from the sky to join a battle or save Samor. One showed up near the end of his adventure, said some vague things, and then she disappeared.

It wasn’t satisfying. I wasn’t doing them justice.

Being completely honest with myself, and therefore you the Reader, the Dragons were in the book for nostalgia. I’ve wanted to write a book with Dragons since I was a kid reading Dungeons and Dragons Endless Quest books and playing the Dungeon board game. When I started writing Samor’s story 20+ years ago, the scene introducing Dragons was among the first I wrote. When I returned to him and started his story largely over from scratch, that scene was one of the ones I transferred.

What my writer’s brain had come to realize was this: the Dragons were important to me, but not to the book. To quote another writer, Alfred Bester is known to have said, “The book is the boss.” The book wasn’t accommodating or accepting their presence.

That’s OK. As much as I want to write a book with Dragons, my primary goal is to write a good story. They weren’t contributing to that, so they had to go. Simple as that. The book is the boss.

Don’t be afraid to murder your darlings. It’s very likely your writer’s brain will have accepted their loss long before the rest of you does. And if you’re writing more than one book, perhaps there’s a way to have your cake and eat it, too.

–Mike

Like what you just read? Here’s another short post about a difficult decision in a manuscript.


© Michael Wallevand, July 2021

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