Over the years, I’ve usually planned out my writing pretty well. I always felt that each element of the plot had a purpose and a place that added to the cohesive whole of the story. Consequently, I’ve really struggled with the concept of “killing your darlings.” For those of you who haven’t heard about this writing tactic, it essentially boils down to being able to let go of certain aspects of your story, especially when they don’t add anything to the plot. Part of the reason I’ve been unable to remove some of these sections from my writing is because I find they’re usually quite intertwined with the rest of the story and to remove them would require massive restructuring of the whole plot.
To kill your darlings, you must be able to recognize them for what they are.
In writing my short story for the next Midnight Writers’ Anthology, I suddenly found the story I wanted to tell was much longer than the word count limit for the submission. While I am one of the authors putting together this anthology, I knew there was a little leeway when it came to our own stories. Still, I wanted to honor the limit for the sake of the other authors submitting short stories to the anthology.
Try as I might, I couldn’t edit the story down to the requisite number of words. My main issue was with “Act 3” of the story. I really liked the character development, action, and revelations contained within it, but it was essentially the same length as the first two acts before it. When I went through and did my first revision, I came to a realization: the story worked fine at the end of Act 2. Now I was torn. Do I cut the story off at Act 2, or do I decimate Act 3 to get it within the word count limits?
When does your short story become something more?
As a reader, I always appreciate all the plot points and other questions to be wrapped up by the end of the story. Unfortunately, the short story format isn’t big enough to really accomplish this. It was at this point I realized I had to kill my darling. I had to axe Act 3. Sure, the tone of the ending ended up being much lighter at the end of Act 2 as compared to its Act 3 counterpart, but it still worked as an ending.
I don’t regret cutting the story off at the Act 2 juncture. If anything, Act 3 told me there were a lot more ideas to explore with this story. My short story was a good start, but there is certainly a novel-length plot here. In revising the story down to its most simple concepts, I found the plot as a whole has merit on a much larger scale. Maybe it’s because I’m more used to writing novels than short stories, but it’s important for me to know if I have enough material to fill a novel, and this editing exercise helped prove it to me.
So, ask yourself: is this darling holding back your short story or is it merely the inkling of something bigger?