Tuesday, December 30, 2014


by Susan

I threw a beloved child off the boat yesterday.

Let me back up. In October, my husband and I took a trip to the Dakota Black Hills. We drove the Needles Highway and stopped to hike the Little Devil's Trail. All the way along the trail were flecks of mica, glistening in the sun.

The sparkles captured me. What a great image! My WIP involves a road trip out West -- this would be great to include! Out came the maps to redraw the main character's route. The problem was, I couldn't find a good reason to route Evvie through Custer State Park.

Did that stop me? Of course not. I brainstormed reasons why she would end up on that road, see that mica and have a stunning revelation about life. I wedged it into that story. With a hammer. And a mallet. And a crowbar.

And my story fell apart.

Yesterday it dawned on me:
  • The scene, wonderful as it was, was throwing a monkey wrench (or crowbar) into the plot.
  •  Evvie had no reason to go to South Dakota.
  • What I was going to have her do there was totally out of character.
No wonder I was spinning my wheels for weeks.

Maybe Evvie whispered in my ear that she didn't want to go there. I don't know. I'm no longer going to try to force her to. It's not as if this image will go away -- oh, no. It goes back into the idea arsenal for another time, another story, another character.

I see a lot of revision advice on cutting dead weight. Sometimes the parts that seem nearest to our hearts are not just dead weight: they're actively getting in the way. So is your story not working? Take a look at the parts you love best. See who you can throw overboard. If they're strong enough, they'll swim back to shore and you can take them out on the waters another trip.


  1. I'm sorry you couldn't make her go to South Dakota! It is really beautiful and inspiring there. Maybe her trip wasn't meant to be, but you should bring lots of other characters there! I want to read about it. :)

    1. That was why it was SO hard to cut! It is indeed beautiful and inspiring there. It'll show up in another story, somewhere, someday, I promise!

    2. Just spotted this today on the Women on Writing blog. I think my internal editor was speaking up, but it took me a while to listen to her. http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2014/12/friday-speak-out-internal-editor-is-not.html

  2. I know what it is like to be inspired by a place or scene and try to jam it into what you are writing, but one thing I do is to file such spurs of inspiration in a folder I call Leftovers. That way I don't lose it (though I may later decide it is not the gem I once imagined) so it makes me feel better about taking it out. The other thing that sometimes happens is the beloved scene/idea could be just the thing for another piece of writing, and then I am glad to have saved it after all. Thanks for the post, it reminds us all that we are easily distracted and enamored when we are writing - anything could go in during early drafts - then we must pull ourselves out of enchantment and get on with sticking to the story and its theme. Happy new year all.

    1. The leftovers file is a great idea. I think this one will need to go in there. It's not an image I think I'm likely to forget, but best to stash it safely. Thanks, and Happy New Year to you!


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