Wednesday Words of Wisdom #4 — Hostages


“If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favorite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable.” ~ Joss Whedon

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I am not surprised to see a quote like this come from someone who’s created some of my favorite characters and then murdered them. Why Wash, why? Still, this is classic advice.

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ~ William Faulkner

As writers, we like our characters. We like our plots We like our settings. And sometimes we get so overfond of them that it’s hard to hear the constructive criticisms they sometimes need. We “kill our darlings” and resurrect them in another form with every fresh round of editing — or maybe we put them to rest and let them stay there. Maybe they’ll reincarnate in a different story entirely someday.

Joss’ quote is more like… holding your darlings hostage. Because taking your best idea out? Your best idea? (My immediate suspicion is that my favorite idea or scene is central, the one I’m building my entire story concept on.) Either you grit your teeth and do it, or you kick into high gear and figure out how to save it. You bargain. You manage another page so that you can justify keeping your favorite.

When it really comes down to it, what would you do? Would you take this advice? Would you need someone else to tell you to write more or cut it? I know I would. Could be a cool group writing exercise.

6 thoughts on “Wednesday Words of Wisdom #4 — Hostages

      1. There was a comic series that followed… I had a friend from high school who was really into it and was my contact for staying informed on that, but I’ve fallen out of touch with him so I don’t know anymore. But it exists. Joss has just given up on getting the tv show going again or making another movie.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. If that’s what it takes to raise the remaining scenes to that level. Then I’d say cut it.

    But I think the point is that if it’s your best scene, you need to learn from it – and move on to more ‘best’ scenes.

    Once you can’t identify a ‘best’ scene, your writing is uniformly… we hope, good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, bringing everything else up to par would be ideal. I’ve still been thinking in NaNoWriMo mode, aka just getting everything down on the page and worrying about editing later – but that’s a good point because during the editing process is most likely when you’d even go out of your way to identify the best scene.


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