The Editing Secret You Know (But Are Trying to Forget)

Balancing the Baby

The observant among you will have noticed something rather off about the photo above. The rest of you are wondering why I would post a boring photo of my fireplace. If you are in the second lot, look again. See it now?

That baby should not be there. And really, it’s a pretty poor Photoshop job anyway, so you may be suspecting that the weeks-old baby on the mantel is not in actuality sitting up there under his own power. Two photos taken, one with my husband on either side, holding up our infant son several years ago, knit together quickly to make it appear that the boy just jumped up there on his own and was casually relaxing. In hindsight, we should have used a tripod.

I post this photo to illustrate a writing truth that you have probably already heard, but of which we all need to be reminded now and then. Sometimes you write a scene, a chapter, or an entire book and place a baby somewhere it doesn’t belong. A turn of phrase you are particularly proud of that really doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of your work, a supporting character you love but can’t justify because he doesn’t move the story along, a bit of melodramatic indulgence in place of hardworking, compelling storytelling.

These are the babies on your mantel. They don’t belong there. You need to remove them. And you know it (usually). If your babies blend in too much, perhaps a reader with keener eyes can help you identify them.

You don’t have to toss your babies out in the cold and forget about them. You just can’t leave them up on the mantel. It’s distracting. Tuck them away in their cribs until you find a better place for them in another work. Keep that turn of phrase, that great character, that bit of melodrama in your notebook; they may all someday turn into new stories where they fit perfectly.

2 thoughts on “The Editing Secret You Know (But Are Trying to Forget)

  1. It’s a killer to click the Delete button on sentences/scenes/characters we love – until we do it and see that the piece is much stronger. Thanks for the reminder. (Your son is adorable, and I love your mantel.)

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