Friday, July 19, 2013

Writing Tips: Killing Scenes

I've read lots of writer blogs which talk about "killing off your darlings." This means, of course, you shouldn't be afraid of getting rid of characters if they need to go.

The same can be true about research. Not every interesting tidbit you discover when you're researching background has to be in the final product.

When working on Scotch Broom, I did a lot of research on Thurso, a small town on the norther Scottish coast. It's where my main character, Kat, arrives in Great Britain. One thing I discovered was a Bed and Breakfast, which was just too cool to not include. Alas, it was a diversion from the plot. A fun diversion, but really not needed at all. Hack, slash, wince. Goodbye B&B and 1200 words of interesting, yet useless research.

My opinion mirrors that of Stephen King, who said after finishing your draft, cut 10% of the words. The best place to find those excess words is where you fell in love with your research and just HAD to include it.

This is the final few lines of the chapter in Scotch Broom in which Kat arranges train transportation southward:

* * *

“Can I buy my ticket now?”

“That you can. It’s an open ticket; you can use it whenever you want. Maybe you’ll enjoy Thurso and want to stay a few days.”

“That’d be nice, but I do have people to meet in Inverness.” Kat handed over the twenty-pound note, and the clerk counted back her change. “I’ll come back this evening.”

“There’s a good fish and chips place right down the road if you’d like a bite to eat.”

“Thanks. I’ll try it out.”

This is the original scene in which I burned my lovely Bed and Breakfast. Fun as it was, it just didn't further the plot:

“Can I buy my ticket now?”

“That you can. It’s an open ticket; you can use it whenever you want. Maybe you’ll enjoy Thurso and want to stay a few days.”

“I do have people to meet in Inverness.” Kat handed over the twenty-pound note, and the clerk counted back her change. She turned away from the ticket window and took a few steps, when the clerk called out to her. “If you’re needin’ a room fer the night, you might try the Waterside. It’s decent and not too dear.”

“That’d be great. Which way?”

“Head north on Princes Street. That’s the street right out there,” he replied pointing to the street on the opposite side of the train platform. “Turn right on Sir John’s Square, then left on Sinclair. Walk quite aways, and take a right on Sir George’s Street, a quick right on Janet and keep going ‘til ya see it. Ye’ll be right by the river.”

“Um, north then Sir George—.”

“Nae, lass, right on Sir John’s, then Sinclair, then Sir George.” The station master paused, and seemed to notice the expression on Kat’s face. “Here. I’ll draw ye a map.”

Kat grinned. “That’d be perfect.”

She followed the map the station master had drawn. On Janet Street, she stopped in front of an old brick, two-story house. Windows on both floors faced the street, and a single door led inside. Since it looked so much like a private home, she wasn’t sure whether she should knock first or just go inside.

When she got close to the reddish door, she saw a beautiful brass doorknocker. Taking that as a need to knock before entering, she reached toward it. When she touched it, the knocker spoke. “Welcome to Waterside House. Please come in.” Kat jerked back, surprised. While talking doorknockers were the norm on Galdorheim, she didn’t expect to find one in the mundane world. 

The door didn’t open on its own, so she grabbed the handle and pushed it. Stepping in, she found herself in a small lobby. To the right, an archway opened to a wallpapered, well-lit dining room. The wallpaper was a little too flowery for her taste, but it was overall a pleasant room. Turning back, she saw a dark-haired woman standing behind the small counter, wearing a dress straight out of the 19th Century MacSears catalog. Kat was certain she wasn’t there when she came in.

“Good day, may I help you?” the woman said in a sweet contralto voice. 

Kat stepped to the counter. “I’d like a room for the night. I’m waiting to take the train south tomorrow. I missed today’s.”

The woman consulted a watch hung on a gold chain attached to a brooch. “Just missed it seems. I thought I heard the train pull out, but I’m so used to the sound I don’t notice.”

Pulling a big leatherbound ledger from beneath the counter, she opened it facing Kat. “If you’ll fill out the information, I’ll have the maid check your room. A single, yes?” She tapped on an old-fashioned bellhop bell, which dinged pleasantly. 

“Yes. Just me.”

Kat wondered how anybody in the house could hear it, but a door behind the counter opened right away, and a young girl stepped in. She also wore a 19th Century maid’s costume, complete with a frilly white cap over her thick red hair. “Is the single ready?” the woman asked.

“Yes’m, but I’ll go check.” The girl lifted the hinged counter on one end and headed for a stairway to the left.

Meanwhile, Kat had been puzzling over the questions in the Guest Book. Where should she say she was from? Auto plate? What was that? Maybe she’d only fill in the things she knew and see if that sufficed. She wrote the date and her name. That was all she did know. The woman leaned forward to read the ledger upside down, a talent of innkeepers all over the world.

“Where do you live?” she asked.

“On an island north of here. I rode a boat down from the Shetland Islands.”

The woman nodded. “Just write Shetland Islands in the space then. No car? That’s fine. Not many people have them.”

Kat did as requested, then the woman turned the book to face her and made a notation of the check-in time. “One night will be nineteen pounds, sixty pence, including tax, of course.

Kat unslung her bag from her shoulder and rummaged into the foldbox for another twenty-pound note. She handed it across the counter. The woman handed her a few coins in change. By that time, the maid had come back down the stairs.

“Here’s the key to your room,” the woman said, handing over an old brass key. “Tara will show you the way.”

Kat picked up her bag and followed Tara up the stairway and down a hall to the end room. “The bath is through that door,” she said, pointing out the obvious, since it was the only other door in the room. The room was already opened, so she walked in and laid her bag on the single bed. She turned to hand the forty pence to Tara, but the maid was already gone.

She wondered if the woman at the desk had chosen the decor for the house. A faux wainscot separated the top and bottom of the walls. The bottom wallpaper had vertical stripes of lavender and green wallpaper. The top was lavender with little flowers all over it. The one window looked out onto a pleasant garden.

She flopped down on the bed and bounced a couple of times. Her first hotel room! Kat felt more grown up already. She glanced up to see a black box. It took her a moment to recognize the first television she’d ever encountered. The Witches' Council had an LCD flat screen. “Well, might as well get cleaned up then find someplace for dinner.” She didn’t have to go far for dinner. A Fish and Chips walkaway sat directly across the street.

* * *

After a good night’s sleep, Katya rose early, repacked, and went down to the dining room. Her room tariff included breakfast. She intended to eat a lot to keep her going all day on the train. She sat at a table for two by the window overlooking the street. The same maid she’d met yesterday, Tara, came to her table and set down a teacup and small teapot.

“Would ye be wantin’ coffee, Miss?” she asked.

“No, tea is fine. Do I get a menu or—?”

“Nae. We serve the full breakfast. It’s what we offer.”

“Okay, but isn’t it wasteful if I don’t like something. Wouldn’t it have to be thrown out?”

“We collect the leftovers to feed to the pigs. Missus has a cousin with a farm.”

“Okay, then. Bring it on.”

Tara curtsied and left the dining room by a swinging door in the back. She soon returned with a huge tray balanced in both hands. Katya watched as Tara laid dishes on the table. Sausage formed in a square, something fried and brownish, scones, another kind of muffin, and a fruit cup.

“What’s that?” Katya asked, pointing at the brown stuff.

“Fried haggis. Will that be all?” Tara asked.

“Um, no, this looks like more than enough.” Wanting to get the flavor of the countries she visited, she thought she should try the haggis. She’d already set the sausage aside since she didn’t eat meat any longer. She stopped before biting into the haggis, remembering that they cooked it in a sheep’s stomach or something like that. Sometimes it’s better to be a vegetarian. She wished they served eggs, but found the scone delicious, especially with the thick jam that came with it.

A magical trip to Stonehenge lands a witch in the Otherworld where an ancient goddess is up to no good.
Kat is on her way to an exciting trip to a faroff land, but is led astray by a jealous rival. Caught in the Otherworld with a has-been goddess trying to kill her, Kat has to defeat the goddess and rescue her brother from the hag's clutches.


  1. That was very interesting to me. I sent a prologue to sequel I'm writing to a cousin who thinks he's a an editor. I used bare-bones dialogue using few tags. He sent it back to me adding full paragraphs to my one sentences, and what seemed to me, way too much description.

    I love Stephen King's On Writing. He gives great advice.

  2. Leona: Nobody should write anything for you. Your cousin was out of line and doesn't understand what an editor does. Hopefully, he's a decent proofreader.

  3. Always good advice, Marva, even it it's not research you added. I have found cutting a lot of useless words and sentences speeds up the story. No one likes to read a draggy one.
    I never find those useless words unless I let the story sit for a while. And oh my, can I snip.

  4. He said what he wrote was just suggestions. I chose to ignore most. After your post, I feel better about what I wrote.

  5. Thank Marva, it's nice to know I'm not the only one who "slash and burns" when I'm doing my editing. Love the cover for the print book.