Getting the Axe

Posted: February 3, 2014 by writingsprint in My two cents, Writing
Tags: , , ,


“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Stephen King

I’m working on a rewrite to a novel I wrote a long time ago. In one of my favorite scenes, the main character is laying in wait in a tree to ambush a werewolf. Things go awry and the werewolf scrambles up the tree while our hero tries to get in a last, desperate shot with his bow. It’s crazy, it’s cool, and it would have looked badass on a book cover. I need to give it the axe.

Two friends whose opinions I respect deeply gave me some advice when I started this rewrite. One said that unless what I’m looking at is completely unacceptable, don’t make major changes. The story is as good as I was able to write it at the time. The other said that while the story is done once it goes out the door, until then, it’s my prerogative to make changes, no matter how severe. It’s my name that’s going on the book spine, so I should make it what I want it to be.

This was a combination of both of these.

The villain was unacceptable. She didn’t get a fair shake in the first version. (Actually, by now it’s the fourth version. It went through a lot of rewrites over the years.) She deserved better. I’m making changes so that she’s a more well-rounded character, deliberately evil, not knee-jerk bad.

The hero needed to be more mature. The villain is someone he knows, so a straight ambush is wrong. He has to try to talk to her first. I learned this one on the job over the years. Even if you feel like you can’t work with somebody, you have to try. If they blow you back, you can say you tried. If they talk, even if it’s an angry talk, you might get somewhere.

Talking means meeting face to face. That means no ambush. That means no desperate shot with an arrow at point-blank range while a werewolf is climbing up to get you.

I’m going to miss that scene. It’s been in there since the first rewrite, which is a long, long time ago. Still, the main character is more of a man than he was then, and now he’s not fighting alone. I’m wiser than I was when I first wrote it. It goes deeper than just the action in the scene. This is a change that has to happen.


  1. A.D. Everard says:

    I feel for you. I’ve got a bunch of scenes (some quite lengthy) safely filed away that I hope some day to be able to use. Probably won’t ever happen. I had to chop them. They stayed chopped. I just haven’t quite trashed them in case something useful is still in there.

    In fact, just today, I’ve ripped out a massive 26 pages of what I thought was done and polished – (this lot is not a keep, however, so won’t be filed away). That’s 8,000 words of OUCH! I have to work through the ruins and grab out snippets that are necessary, but, yeah, it hurts.

    Good luck with yours. You’ll feel better when you see the new stuff go in, same as I know I will be happier when I replace mine. If you don’t do it, you will always wish that you did, so it’s worth it, no matter how painful.



  2. Oh yeah, all very good points, totally true. It’s better once it’s gone. It’s the whole question of “what does the story want to be>” versus “what do I want it to be?” The fresh start means you can write it better than you did the first time. 🙂

    I can see pieces that are still in the current story that I salvaged from earlier versions, that I wish I’d done a better job of working in. That’s the risk. Sometimes it adds color, having stuff that doesn’t quite match, but other times it reads funny.


  3. […] spectre of Stephen King is whispering in my ear that I should “kill my darlings” and let Risha have her own ship — that if nothing else, I should try it out and see if […]


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