Three of us get together at a bakery every month to critique the murder mysteries we're writing.
I spent five or six minutes going through my friend’s pages, suggesting more precise wording, asking about a description that seemed to conflict with what was said in a previous chapter, and noting places where the back story could be broken into smaller chunks and perhaps woven more artfully throughout the story. I praised an outstanding metaphor.
As an oddball INTJ, I was proud of my ability to see the big picture as well as the smallest details. I thought I had helped my friend.
Until it was the other person’s turn, that is. “Why is this chapter necessary?” he asked. “What does it add?”
It was like being struck with lightning—the kind that kills your darlings without them knowing what hit them.
The chapter was unnecessary and added nothing.
It did not tell the reader anything new about the action or the characters. That made it worse than pointless, because it was likely to throw readers out of the story completely.
When you write, just write. Don’t think about grammar or punctuation. Don’t worry about formatting or theme or flow. Just write until you can’t think of anything left to say.
But before you edit, remind yourself that everything in your work must either advance the plot or give insight into the characters.
After each scene, ask yourself, “Did this move the story forward or show the reader more about a character?”
If the answer is no, you must kill it or rewrite it. It’s that simple.
—Ann Kellett, Ph.D.
Ann Kellett Editing