Murder your book-start darlings, not with a pen but a chainsaw!

Rotto perth

I just got back from an awesome Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) retreat on the fabulous Rottnest Island near Perth. And amid the writing and learning, I had a peer group critique session that came with a side-serve of…


The start of a book is key.

We all know that, right? It’s what will make a reader trust you enough to keep reading, to fall in love with your book. But before the book becomes a book, it’s the bit where the writer (me!) is just getting to know my characters. As. I. Write. So it’s slow and clunky. I’m fine with that because it’s a first draft.

I go back to those malformed starts once I understand the characters and story better. Once the manuscript is finished. I cut bits, add a few extras, read it and nod to myself. What a great start, look at how I’ve laid a trail of clever clues to what will happen! Pat myself on the back!

And up until now I’ve been totally convinced that’s the best I can do.

What I realised with that critique group, is that it’s way short. Sure,  understand what’s going on, but a reader picking the manuscript up can be completely thrown. It reminds me of an outstanding quote:

Clarity over cleverness

The boys from Sterling and Stone hit a chord in me talking about this. I wrote those words

Rotto quokka

Wanted for crimes against bananas: one quokka

down. Twice. I underlined them. I even drew a box around them.

You’re can’t be a clever writer if your reader doesn’t understand what you’re saying.

But I didn’t fully comprehend what it meant for me.

When it comes to killing my darlings, I now know I need to attack with a chainsaw. No simple tinkering and touching up of my first draft starts.  I need my laptop to be a crime scene requiring a pot of bleach and a high-pressure hose to clean up. A bit like what was left of my banana after that quokka found my bag on Rotto.

Chapter One. Select All. Delete.


Let the fun begin!

3 thoughts on “Murder your book-start darlings, not with a pen but a chainsaw!

  1. I think the first thing to know is what type of writer you are, or more specifically, which side of the line you lean to. There are those called discovery writers or (gardeners) and those called outlines or (architects). George R.R. Martin coined those phrases.

    Most have some of a mix. I’m a discovery writer at heart. I know I’m going to need more drafts that others. So I get needed some pretty extensive revisions in the early drafts. What I’m not sure about is how much revision is required. My characters are usually solid because I don’t discover write them a lot. I don’t start typing until I’m pretty familiar. Other authors like to get to know their characters as the story progresses. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way here, it’s just a work flow that helps the author move along.

    I’d like to encourage you to not be so quick to break out the chainsaw any more than you are to leave a chapter alone. Alphas and Betas can help. I got rid of a whole character in one of my books because she wasn’t doing anything for the plot. My first book turned out well. It’s a process that isn’t absolute. What’s important is to read the content from the reader’s point of view.

    In order to help reduce the slaughter, have you tried plotting outlines? This REALLY helped me avoid complete rewrites in the third or fourth drafts (I never have fewer than four official drafts). I did that, but the downside was it made me cling to tightly to the outline, costing my characters. So I combined my discovery writing nature with my outline, letting my characters respond and react to the plot point, and using that to get me to the next plot point. I hope that helps you. It certainly helped me.


    • I definitely find my characters as I write! I plan them out and find photos of who I imagine them to be, but invariably they change on me as the manuscript fleshes out. So I guess I’m more on the discovery side. I hit my writing straps when my main characters start talking to me.

      I’m loving the realisation that I don’t need to stick with anything I’ve written. I can delete and rewrite and delete again if I like. Because practice is never wasted, and nothing is truly gone… unless your hard drive self-destructs and you haven’t backed up! Hmmm… thinking of which, I’d better email myself my latest draft!
      Thanks for the comment and happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The importance of setting and voice: Shadowhunters Part 2 | hm waugh

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s