Monday, March 9, 2009


From the packrat psyche of Earl Staggs

They call it “killing your darlings” and it’s painful when you have to do it. You’ve sweated over a part of your work in progress and you think it’s good. But then, your critique partners or a trusted reader says it has to go. It’s not relevant to the story, they say, or simply doesn’t fit into the story or does nothing more than slow down the plot.

Even harder is when you read it yourself and are struck with the nagging possibility that maybe – just maybe – that scene does not belong in that story. That’s when you flop back and forth between take it out or leave it in. A tough decision, darn tough, when you’ve put so much time and effort into it. What do you do if you decide to cut it? Delete it as if you never wrote it in the first place?

Absolutely not! Not for me anyway. I never delete anything I’ve written. If I make the painstaking, gut-wrenching decision to take something out of a WIP, I save it. Maybe someday I’ll find a place for it, maybe not. Doesn’t matter. I’ll save it anyway. You just never know.

The best example I can think of was when I was rewriting a short story called “The Missing Sniper.” It happens to be the first appearance of Adam Kingston, who later became the main character in my novel, MEMORY OF A MURDER.

The short story was about the time Adam was hired to help track down a sniper hired to shoot a a prominent politician. Naturally, I began the story with the sniper on a roof, taking aim at the politician. The sniper fired, the politician fell, and the sniper made a clean escape. The local police were desperate to find him and called on Adam to help out. I thought it was a great scene, full of tension, suspense and drama and was the best place to start the story.

Later on, after much deliberation with myself, gallons of coffee, and days of flopping between take it out or leave it in, I decided to take out that scene and begin the story at a different point.

So I saved that darling and hoped I’d made the right decision. Sometimes, in this kind of situation, you never use your saved darlings and you never know if you made the right call.

This time, it worked out.

A few years later, I happened upon that scene and wondered how I could use it. An idea struck and I used it as the beginning of another short story. In this one, the sniper was the main character and the story took off in a completely different direction from the one in which the scene originally appeared.

I called that story “All The Fine Actors” and darned if it didn’t go out and bring home a Derringer Award as Best Short Mystery Story of the Year in its category.

Now, as I’m sitting here scratching for an idea for a story, I’m thinking I should browse through all my saved darlings and see if it can happen again. You just never know.

Earl Staggs


A. K. said...

Wow! That was cool. Great tip for people like me trying to start writing!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good advice, Earl. And don't toss out old manuscripts. I started a chldren's mystery many years ago and finally decided to finish it. Of course I started again from scratch but the theme was still there as well as the characters. It's going quite well and I'm happy that I'm such a manuscript pack rat. :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and advice. I too save my darlings when they are not a good fit in a certain story. I have this romance/sex scene I had written into one of my upcoming books, Detective Snoop. It's a well written scene, but the book is a comedic whodunit detective story. I had my DTR (designated trusted reader) read the ms as it was and he told me it stuck out like WTF? is THIS doing in this story!? LOL So I filed it away and may find a better situation to use it later.

But no, don't throw anything away that has merit unto itself.

Morgan Mandel said...

I save everything - Manuscripts that never got published, rejection letters, critiques, stuff I almost included but it didn't seem to fit.

Of course, I'm a saver anyway. Lots of paper stuff in my house, including books. Never enough room for it all.

Morgan Mandel
Morgan Mandel