Archive for critique

Do You Really Have to Kill Your Darlings?

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Stephen King Kill Your Darlings

First of all, what are darlings? To writers, the term is used when referencing a piece of the story or a character that the author loves but really has little to do with the story itself. The advice you’ll hear from many writing experts is that you need to kill them, murder them, or to put it simply, get rid of them. Take them out of your story.

Eliminate or Change?

The problem I’ve encountered more than once is the assumption that they always have to be killed or gotten rid of. This is not always true. After all, if you as the writer love some element of your work, why should you get rid of it? For example, you really love a certain character but he or she doesn’t really add value to the story. How about changing your story or your character a bit so that they do add value to the story?

Moana’s Hei Hei Changed

I read that when Hei Hei the rooster was originally written in the story of Moana, he was a cranky and proud rooster (http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Heihei). But his part in the story really had no purpose other than to be annoying. So the writers had to rewrite him or he’d be cut. Hei Hei is a much different rooster now. He’s also a more important element to the story—he’s a source of comical trouble. Perhaps the character in your story won’t need such a dramatic change in character. Maybe he or she just needs a more dramatic part. And if, after trial and error, you just can’t make this character fit into the story, then you can reconsider eliminating them (or save them for another story). The same can be said for certain scenes or other parts that aren’t contributing to the story.

Don’t Force It

You might be told that you shouldn’t try to force it. This could very well be true. So ask yourself why you want to keep this darling in your story. Is it because you worked so hard on it and it seems like a waste to get rid of it? Sorry. This probably isn’t a good enough reason to keep it. Is it because you really like it? If it doesn’t fit in your story, save it for another story. Or is it because you think it’s an important part of the story? If you think it’s important but your professional critiquers doesn’t, try to figure out why. Then consider changing things so they see the importance too.

Listen

As a writer, we need to be willing to listen to the advice of a professional writer. We need to be willing to make changes to our stories in order to make them better. If you really want your story to shine, if you really want people to love your story as much as you do, you need to listen to and learn from your betters.

You are the Writer

Ultimately, though, it’s your story. Don’t let a strong critique force you into doing something you don’t want to do. Don’t be pressured or let your critiquer make you feel stupid when you say you don’t want to change this or that and the critiquer responds, “Ugh. This is why I hate little darlings.”

Consider All Your Options

There is nothing wrong with keeping something or some character you love in your story. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the story to end a certain way because you plan on writing a sequel. If the person or persons critiquing your story think a certain element or a certain character is useless and should be gotten rid of, consider their advice seriously. But consider all your options. There’s more than one way to do something.

Get Multiple Critiques

It also helps to get the advice of more than one professional writer. This way if everyone is saying the same thing, you know the critique is valid and not just an opinion. Critiques are invaluable in that they can help you become a better writer. But the line between critique and opinion can sometimes be blurred.

What are your feelings or opinions on “darlings”?

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Finding Core Story Problems with a Content / Development Editor

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Have you ever heard the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know”? It is very difficult to critique your own writing skill. My beta readers helped but the feedback they provided just touched the surface of what was wrong with my story. So I hired a professional content / development editor, one that looks at the overall story development. And let me tell you, Kristen Lamb’s feedback was phenomenal.

I knew my story wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t know why. I hoped it was good enough, but knew deep down that it wasn’t. When she discussed her findings with me, it was like a lightbulb came on and I was struck by lightning at the same time.

Lightning Bulb

The lightning strike was because nothing pains the heart more than hearing the story you’ve poured your soul into still needs more work. The lightbulb was because she also provided feedback that encouraged me to move forward. My writing is great. My story is on the right track. And the story problems can be fixed. Here is what she said:

Luke Skywalker Fights His Father

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Face a Hard Choice

You can’t just throw trouble at your character and always have him make easy choices to get out of trouble. You have to really push them to the edge in the final act. You have to force them to do something that goes against their nature. And you have to make the choice a sacrifice no matter which they choose. Think about how Luke in “Star Wars” is forced to kill his own father. His hard choice—sacrifice the galaxy to save his father or sacrifice his father to save the galaxy.

Labyrinth Ludo Sarah Sir Didymus

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Grow

Your character starts out one way at the beginning of the story and learns something so profound from his journey that he changes into someone else. I don’t mean literally, though it could be literal, like in “The Fly”. And I don’t mean their whole persona. I mean something about his or her character changes. Think about Sarah in “The Labyrinth”. She began with the romanticized view that she was a Cinderella-like person forced by a wicked stepmother to care for a spoiled sibling. Then she faced a real adventure and learned to appreciate her life and her brother.

Choose One Protagonist to Focus On

Although you can have multiple protagonists, only one will face the hard choice and truly transform and grow in the end. Consider “Star Wars” again. There are many great protagonists in the story. And they all have grown in their own way. Han Solo isn’t such a scoundrel after all. Neither is Lando. Leia and Han fall in love. But the primary protagonist is Luke. He’s the one who grew the most—from the whiny kid in the beginning to a Jedi master at the end. He’s also the only one who truly faced the heart of the Empire. And he’s the one who sacrificed the most when he made his choice.

You Have to Have One Strong Antagonist

When you just throw trouble after trouble at your character like I did, it’s more difficult for your character to face a hard choice at the end. And as you will see in the next heading, it’s more difficult for them to fight a final battle.

The Departed

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Face the Primary Antagonist in the End

I wanted to add “and Win” because I like my heroes to win. But they don’t have to win in order to make a powerful story. The movie, “The Departed” comes to mind. Although Billy Costigan killed Colin Sullivan in the end, Billy was also killed. Anyway, without one primary protagonist and one primary antagonist, you can’t have the hard choice with the big battle at the end. You simply have a journey from one place to another with no ultimate purpose to keep your reader interested.

What This Means for “StarFire Dragons”

To keep this post from getting too long, I will post my musings on this next Saturday.

Conclusion

As writers, we can either let critiques bring us down and keep us from writing, or we can accept them as learning experiences and work on improving our skill. Because the feedback I received from Kristen Lamb was so spot on and made so much sense (and wasn’t at all contradictory like it was with the beta readers), I’ve chosen the later route. I strongly encourage you all to get your own stories reviewed by a content / development editor. They’re well worth the money. You can’t become a great writer if you don’t learn what you don’t know.