“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” — Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing
It’s a piece of advice that has echoed through the ages, one both parroted and lamented by authors from Faulkner to King: Kill your darlings.
Good writing is efficient writing, and efficient writing is that which you’ve ruthlessly sliced away everything that you can without damaging what it is you’re trying to say. If you can cut it, cut it. If you can’t, don’t.
In a way it reminds me of one of Taoism’s truths: When you have divested yourself of everything you can eliminate, whatever remains is your true self. So it is with writing; everything in your story must serve a vital purpose. Trim the fat.
So it was with Ghosts of Shaolin
Ghosts of Shaolin was the fifth Galvanic Century novel, released in January 2015 and set largely in and around China during the early 1910s. As I’ve mentioned before, I love doing research, so I spent about a month just listening to podcasts about the era, to get a feel for the nature of the time and place.
Laszlo Montgomery’s China History Podcast was a huge help, and I strongly recommend anyone setting anything in China’s history to give it a listen. Specifically, in episode 79, I was introduced to Mr. Carl Crow.
Who was he? Give the episode a listen. Spoiler: He was amazing. I loved him. I needed him in my book, so I added a chapter featuring Mr. Crow as a supporting character.
And then I cut him
Two months later, while revising the novel, I excised him completely. Why? Well, as much historical flavor as good ole’ Carl added, his scenes were utterly devoid of conflict. He was there, he was doing things, but he wasn’t having any strong effect upon the novel.
I cut him because I could. I regret nothing. It was the right choice.
He lives on, in a sense. Almost a year on from the novel’s publication, I’ll be sharing those deleted scenes with the fans supporting my patreon. So even while cutting him out was painful, even though he added nothing substantial to the story, I was able to get some value out of the time I spent writing that chapter and doing that research: added value for the people who have invested in me.
So cut, but don’t discard. You never know when you’ll get some value from those clippings in the future.
Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.