Kill Your Lazy Darlings

by Massimo Marino

During the editing process you need to cut, cut, cut. In writing, economy is gold: too many words can spoil a sentence and distract the reader. In my novels I end up cutting from 10,000 to 20,000 words from an average first draft of 100,000 words.

Everybody is guilt of lazy writing and that’s fine with your first round, but don’t keep those tens of thousand words that just hang around the page, don’t move the plot forward, don’t show anything, don’t give the reader strong descriptions. They are lazy ink users, or pixels noise.

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Don’t be afraid, kill your lazy darlings, they only decrease the intensity of the narration.

Here’s some (lazy) examples.

“Manfred bursted into the room holding a blaster in his hand.” Where else would he hold it? In his ears? Drop the “in his hand.”

“Manfred bursted into the room holding a blaster.” Is the room holding the blaster? Of course not, but changing location can make the sentence — and the right image — stronger and more precise. “Holding a blaster, Manfred bursted into the room.”

“Both Alaston and Mênis were unable to answer and stared at him.” Imagine a scene with three people involved in the conversation and only two were asked the question, “Both” doesn’t add a thing. Also, can you remove the passive form? “Alaston and Mênis stared at him, unable to answer.”

“’That’s weird,’ Annah said hugging herself.” This is dialogue, we can cut the “That’s”. More, we don’t even need ‘said’:

“Weird.” Annah hugged herself.” A lot of “said” can be sent to the garbage without a second thought. Besides, without ‘said’ the sentence reads cleaner. The words that are left work harder and we get rid of a lazy ‘said’ showing an action. Who says “Weird.” in the scene is obvious.

“Dan and Manfred left the Council Room together, at the same time.” ‘Together’ and ‘at the same time’ are repetitious. If Dan and Manfred leave the room together the action has to be performed at the same time and vice versa, right? “Dan and Manfred left the Council Room together.” If Dan and Manfred left the room within a few minutes of each other the scene that needs to be conjured would be different.

“Manfred stood up from the chair and walked up and down across the room.” The reader doesn’t need a movement-by-movement description to get the vision of an impatient Manfred across the room. Also, he would stood from a previous sitting position. The reader can figure out he had to stand from where he sat in previous scenes before he could walk. Also, use precise verbs: what is walking up and down if not pacing? “Manfred stood, and paced the room.” Don’t you feel good when you create the same vision with six words instead of fourteen lazy ones?

“She read worry on his face for her.” You don’t need the “for her”. The situation show what he is worried about. “She read worry on his face.”

“Her whole family.” ‘Family’ means all members and makes the word ‘whole’ unnecessary. The reader knows you mean all members unless you specify some of them. “Her family.”

In each piece you write, go back and examine each word and weigh its place in the story. Ask youself these questions:

1. Is it repetitious?

2. Does it make sense?

3. Isn’t it obvious?

4. Is it that way because of grammar (dialogue can be ungrammatical to sound real)?

5. Do you have a clause that could be reduced to a word/verb?

6. Are words in the right place?

7. If I do a global search for “ly” will I find too many adverbs?

8. If I do a global search for “ing” will I find too many —ing verbs that might be strengthened?

9. If I do a global search for “was/were” can I make the sentence stronger removing the passive form?

10. For every sentence and for every paragraph, ask yourself “So what?”

Finally, always ask whether you killed all your darlings.

Find Alaston, Mênis, Annah, Dan, Manfred and others in the “Daimones Trilogy” – Daimones: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.1 – Once Humans: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.2 – The Rise of the Phoenix: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.3

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