Letting the Babies Stay Dead

There’s a long-used term in the writing and publishing world: Kill Your Babies.

This is, of course, a euphemism for being willing to recognize which parts of your work are, well, self-indulgent tripe that needs to be cut. For some reason, it’s often the bits we’re most emotionally attached to in our work that needs to be deleted. I suspect it has something to do with that very attachment that makes those parts not good enough. We’re too invested in the meaning to ourselves to have perspective on how it contributes to the story.

Regardless, we all learn at some point to kill our babies.

What this means for most of us, though, is that we delete the offending passage or section and paste it into a document we save. We call it “Outtakes” maybe, and we keeps it forever, Precious. No, the baby isn’t dead, it’s just…Sleeping. I’m sure there are some ruthless, emotionally balanced authors out there who really, truly delete and forever nuke their babies. But many of us have them, little shriveled corpses in the basements of our laptops, that – who knows? – could one day be reanimated! The baby could live again!

The other day I re-watched Notting Hill, one of my all-time favorite movies. (I know this is my second reference to a movie rewatch. I have this Cold Virus That Will Not Die, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time reclining on the couch, alas.) At any rate, I love this movie so much, that I own it. This time I noticed there are special features and, basking in the glow of the Notting Hill love, I watched those, too. They included Deleted Scenes.

Hot Damn! MOAR Notting Hill to love!

The thing is? Those deleted scenes really sucked. They deserved to be deleted. I don’t know what went wrong with them, but they weren’t in line with the crispness of the rest of the movie. Whoever made the decision to cut those scenes exercised excellent judgment. Afterwards, I was kind of sorry I’d watched them. They diluted my glow ever so slightly with their badness.

And it made me think of all the babies I’ve been saving, just in case I can reanimate them. I’ve noticed a blog trend lately where writers are posting deleted sections of their novels or manuscripts. Kind of a fun thing – like the deleted scenes in the special features – and everyone is always looking for blog topics. Still, I’m wondering if it’s a good idea. If something isn’t good enough to stay in the story, it probably shouldn’t be read by anyone besides your CPs and your editor – who are likely the ones who told you to get rid of it in the first place.

After all, none of us really wants anyone to know about all those zombie babies in the basement. It might look bad.

I’m thinking mine might deserve a decent burial.

21 Replies to “Letting the Babies Stay Dead”

  1. LOL. So true! Glad I’m not the only one who saves the “outtakes.” But I won’t be sprinkling my blog with them. And not just because I don’t have a blog.

  2. No, no. You should totally keep them around, if only for mercenary purposes. Once you’re super-famous and, sadly, deceased, even your zombie babies will be worth huge money. To your estate, anyway.

    In an unrelated note, don’t forget to mention me in your will.

  3. Oh my. I have so many “extras” files. I also save each revision. I could populate a metropolis with slightly-modified clones and zombie babies.

    Now that’s a horror story … that should never be told.

  4. Fragments files are useful. Just because a baby doesn’t fit in one spot of a story, it doesn’t mean it won’t fit elsewhere. Never write a second time what you can cut and paste. However, once the story is complete and has gone out into the world, it might be true that a respectful and decent burial would be kinder…And might help preserve the illusion of my own brilliance a tiny while longer if I don’t have to reread the clunkers I yanked.

    1. You know, I don’t agree, Marcella. I’ve pasted old stuff before and I just end up rewriting it. I think using old stuff and pasting it in can be like reattaching a dead limb to a living body. The process of rewriting – even if the text conveys largely the same message – makes it live again.

      1. Interesting. I find that some dead babies aren’t really dead – they’re simply misplaced. The information is good, the dialog is fine – it just needs to arise at the correct point of tension in a story. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t scads of words and scenes that get pulled that never again see the light of day…but the few that do get revived make me glad to keep the fragments file.

  5. Hmm. I guess I’m in the minority here. It is excruciating to cut my “babies” from my WIP, but when I do, they are dead to me. Highlight. Delete. There’s so much to second-guess when writing, so many uncertainties, but if a phrase, sentence, paragraph or SCENE is causing me to waffle, then I figure it probably needs to go.
    And it does. 🙂

  6. Great post! And super timely, since I’d been struggling with what to do with one out of place chapter.

    In the case of my WIP, I have this chapter I love that answers questions and raises more. But it’s from the hero’s first-person POV rather than the heroine’s. I’d only be writing a handful of scenes (maybe 2-3 chapters) from his POV so I had to decide did I want to clue people in, or should I keep it entirely from her POV. I was thinking I might spruce it up later as a deleted scene on my website since, if I could pull off the dual POV, I would include it.

    Also, it also helps to put emotional distance from them to really realize that, though you and your friends may love them, they don’t really fit. You can also generally recycle anything that shines in that deleted scene to take place somewhere else in the novel, no issue. Sometimes you just needed to write that scene to get to that sparkling line or paragraph. 🙂

    1. I find that’s very true, Kate. In my latest novel, I wrote a fair amount from my hero’s POV that I later cut. It turned out I needed to write it, so I knew what was going on his head, but I decided it was better for the reader to be with the heroine and not know. It’s never wasted writing. But that doesn’t mean anyone else needs to see it, either!

  7. LOL! Guilty. I have an Outtakes file for every book. The one for In a Fix contains one scene I love so much it pains me physically not to use it. But alas, it doesn’t work in the context of the book, so the scene dungeon it goes. 🙁

    1. I do, too, Linda – have ’em for every book. Why do I keep them? So the question is – would you ever put that deleted scene on, say, your blog?

      1. Absolutely! I do it all the time. I’ve even had people say they’re buying the book because the outtake posted on my blog intrigued them enough to want to read the rest of the book.

  8. There have been too many times I’ve deleted a scene or a section of scene only to find that just because it didn’t fit in that particular place, it fit perfectly in another place in the wip. Then I had to try to recreate it. Now I save EVERYTHING. And, yes, frequently I dig stuff out of my outtake folder and use it. Quite frequently.

    Sometimes I even dig it out of a folder and put it in another wip (with names changing, etc)

    So I’m one who keeps my outtake folder, even after the book is published. For me its fun to go through and read what I cut. A lot of it is really well written, it just slowed the plot down, or didn’t fit in that particular scene.

    I say if you can’t delete it permanently there’s no harm in keeping it for posterity’s sake.

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