Killing one’s darlings. Or at least putting them in cryostasis

I recently finished writing my first novel.

I have a tendency, once I’ve finished the first draft of a large project, to shelve it for a bit before I look at it again to start editing or tweaking it. The idea behind that, which I learned decades ago, is to move onto other projects and put the completed one out of your mind, so when you finally look at it again, you won’t remember parts and risk glossing over them from familiarity, but will see the whole thing with fresh eyes, more objectively.

For me, perhaps paired with my terrible memory, that system really works. I remember the overall story (or project) but not the details and nuances I used throughout it. So it really is reading it from a much more unfamiliar eye than if I finished it and immediately started at page one with the editing, although I’ve heard about that system working for some writers, too.

I haven’t even gotten to the stage where I’m buckling in for a no-nonsense edit of that first novel, and already the mental distance I’ve allowed myself from the project has made me realize that there’s a big chunk of it that isn’t going to work.

The section in question is about the training of the main character, a scientist, for hand-to-hand and distanced combat for a military mission into a zombie wasteland. It’s a cool section, thanks largely to the methods by which he’s trained. But I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t belong in the book. In fact, it doesn’t belong in the book almost because of how cool it is. I’ve got what I guess amounts to a fish-out-of-water adventure story with thriller and horror and action elements mixed in, but then I’ve gone and thrown in some stuff that’s definite science fiction (or at least sci-fi that’s harder than the idea of zombies are in a “realistic” setting, for pedants out there).

There’s nothing wrong with mixing genres, of course. It’s done all the time, and it can be done really well. But in this case, the style of this training section is pretty clearly out of place. The overall mixes of genres the story uses work, I think, but the sci-fi training section, with its next gen technology, doesn’t jibe with anything that comes before it or after it. It’s a chunk of hard science fiction dropped into a story that doesn’t use hard science fiction anywhere else.

Thus, the whole collection of training scenes need to be taken out as they are and re-written entirely in a fashion that better suits the flavour of the rest of the story. My of course wanting that part of the story to be as engaging as other parts will be a challenge, what with taking out the cool factor it currently provides. I suppose in a pinch I could always do a montage.

But despite the time and effort this all means, I only look at this situation as a good thing. Taking out part of a book that doesn’t work and replacing it with one that does will make it better. And the work I put into making that current part of the book what it is won’t be wasted because it’s still viable, just elsewhere. So I’m not killing my darling so much as putting it on ice to perhaps be used again in a later project, in a story that’s better suited to it.

That’s wins all around.