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Johne

Why Great Writers Destroy Their Work

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It's a provocative title but I see where Robert McKee is going - it's the 'kill your darlings' mantra on a grand scale in pursuit of your very best writing.
 

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Why Great Writers Destroy Their Work

Optimistically, from first idea to final draft, a story takes six months to write. The first four of these should be spent on your step outline. As the term implies, a step outline is the story told in steps.

Using one or two-sentence statements, you must simply and clearly describe what happens in each scene, how it builds and turns. For example, "He enters expecting to find her at home, but discovers her note saying she's left for good."

Next to each statement, indicate what step in the design of story you see the scene fulfilling. Which scene is the Inciting Incident? The Climax? Does it turn the main plot, subplot or both?

Confine yourself to these statements for this critical reason: you want to destroy your work. Taste and experience tell us that 90 percent of everything we write will be mediocre at best.

In your search for quality, you must create far more material than you can use, then destroy it.

A writer secure in their talent knows there's no limit to what they can create. So you must trash everything less than your best on your quest for a gem-quality story.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Johne said:

A writer secure in their talent knows there's no limit to what they can create.

Is there such a thing as "a writer secure in their talent?" 

 

1 hour ago, Johne said:

So you must trash everything less than your best on your quest for a gem-quality story.

I've never been a fan of writing style absolutes (other than mechanics - spelling, grammar, etc.). I think too often these writing experts lose sight of the fact that reading is a subjective experience.  What's a gem-quality story to one reader can be dreck to another. And sometimes that less than gem-quality story can be greatly improved with a few tweaks, so I'd never advise a writer to simply trash a story and start over until all editing options are exhausted. 

 

 

 

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1 minute ago, Accord64 said:

And sometimes that less than gem-quality story can be greatly improved with a few tweaks, so I'd never advise a writer to simply trash a story and start over until all editing options are exhausted. 


I think 'improved with a few tweaks' is on the continuum with 'trash everything less than your best' - the idea is not to settle. If you know you can make a story better with a little rewriting or a little editing, go for it. 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Accord64 said:

Is there such a thing as "a writer secure in their talent?"

Not here at my computer, there isn't!

 

4 hours ago, Johne said:

If you know you can make a story better with a little rewriting or a little editing, go for it. 

Maybe even with a lot of rewriting or editing.

 

But I'm a hoarder. I have multiple copies of my stories: Title1, Title2, Title3, Title3a, ... There might be something I threw out between 2 and 3 that should be replaced. One never knows.

Edited by carolinamtne

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5 minutes ago, carolinamtne said:

But I'm a hoarder. I have multiple copies of my stories: Title1, Title2, Title3, Title3a, ... There might be something I threw out between 2 and 3 that should be replaced.

 

Well, ok, to my mind 'throw out' just means 'move out of my active WIP and down into the Research > Unused Scenes folder in Scrivener.' I never throw anything away, I just make it inactive.

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16 minutes ago, Johne said:

Well, ok, to my mind 'throw out' just means 'move out of my active WIP and down into the Research > Unused Scenes folder in Scrivener.' I never throw anything away, I just make it inactive.

 

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something, but I take "you want to destroy your work" or "you must trash everything" to mean actually hitting the delete button and starting over (or abandoning the scene). Seems to fit the radical tone of the article.

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12 minutes ago, Accord64 said:

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something, but I take "you want to destroy your work" or "you must trash everything" to mean actually hitting the delete button and starting over (or abandoning the scene). Seems to fit the radical tone of the article.


 I'm sure you're right about the tone of the article, however, I know myself well enough to know my mind doesn't work that way.  I took it as more of a guideline than an actual rule.  ;) (For me, moving something out of my WIP frees me to write something else, and if I later think about a place or condition where I could re-use something, I still have access to it.)

image.png

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48 minutes ago, Johne said:

 I took it as more of a guideline than an actual rule.  ;)

 

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21 hours ago, Johne said:

In your search for quality, you must create far more material than you can use, then destroy it.

 

Yes, I'm not as as famous as Chuck Norris, either, but I'm in that camp, too,

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