April 12, 2016

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Elisabeth Dahl, Subplot Slasher (Kill Your Darlings 5) and a Giveaway

Happy Halloween, Writerly Friends!

Halloween is my favorite. I can't even refer to it as a "holiday" or "day" because it's just too epic. Dressing up! Candy! Running around the neighborhood in the dark, going from one friendly neighbor's door to another. Everything about Halloween is awesome.

Of course, there is the dark side to Halloween: ghosts (see yesterday's post for a true ghost story), a certain episode of Little House on the Prairie that still gives me nightmares, freaky slasher movies like Friday the 13th and The Shining.

There IS one time when it is acceptable to be a slasher.

If you are an author in the process of revising a novel, slash away. The pen IS your sword. Cut those red shirts to bits. Hack off that story-line. No knife or razor-sharp fingernail necessary. All you need is a pencil and your delete key.

I'm really excited to be sharing Halloween with Slasher Elisabeth Dahl. Elisabeth's middle grade novel GENIE WISHES came out earlier this year. She's guest blogging today, our first guest blogger of the KILL YOUR DARLINGS series!

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win your own signed copy of GENIE WISHES. The contest will stay open until Sunday, 9 PM Eastern. (Contest for U.S. readers only.)
You can find Elisabeth Dahl at her website.
Elisabeth's going to tell us about cutting a full story-line from her novel in order to take it from draft to finished product.

The Final Form

In 2009, I wrote my first book-length manuscript. Called Genie Wishes: Girl Blogger, it followed a fifth-grade girl named Genie Haddock Kunkle through the second half of her fifth-grade year, beginning with her January election as class blogger.

On one hand, this was a school story, full of history lessons, cafeteria exchanges, and cringe-worthy “health” classes. But the manuscript also dealt with a family crisis. In the second half of the book, Genie’s father received word that Genie’s bipolar mother, who’d left the family several years earlier and moved to California, was off her meds and in trouble. Genie’s father flew west to help locate her and get her stabilized again.

That was the original story, at least. By the time the book was published, in April 2013, Genie Wishes had gained 16,000 words and about 20 line drawings. It had expanded to cover Genie’s whole fifth-grade year. But it had lost both a subtitle (Girl Blogger) and a subplot: the family crisis.

The editorial team at Abrams—and my eventual editor in particular—expressed some interest in the book but believed that the family crisis storyline wasn’t working. They felt that the strengths of the story lay elsewhere. Having worked as an editor myself, I knew that sometimes authors didn’t see a manuscript’s ideal final form as well as an editor could. Editing your own manuscript was like cutting your own hair: You could do it, but the results might be lopsided. But a good editor could guide you through the necessary edits, leaving behind a more perfect final form.

So I was willing to at least try it the editor’s way. But I was worried. I’d always thought of the novel as seriocomic, with the mother crisis responsible for much of the serio- aspect. I worried that removing the mother storyline might reduce the book to a frothy confection.

But in fact, once the mother storyline came out (in the final version, the mother has died many years earlier), attention could shift to the other, more subtly serious issues that the book raises. The question of what you do when a friend decides to dump you. The question of how you deal with teasing. The issue of growing up at a pace that feels right for you. These topics had been more important to me than the mother storyline all along.

I still think of the mother sometimes. I remember the line drawing of her eventual reunion with Genie once she was back on her meds and stabilized. Their smiles were big and lovely. They might have been right for a different book. But they didn’t belong in this one.

Elisabeth Dahl writes for adults and children from her home in Baltimore. Genie Wishes (Amulet Books/ABRAMS, April 2013) is her first book. Her writing for adults has appeared at,, Little Patuxent Review, and elsewhere. On Twitter, she’s @ElisabethDahl, and on the Web, She’s also on Facebook.

Remember to leave a comment for a chance at an extra treat.

Happy haunting, from me and Tom B!

Run for your TARDIS!
I'm going as (classic) Dr. Who #4, Tom Baker...

but I'm doing it girl-style.


Robyn Campbell said...

GENIE WISHES sounds so good, Elisabeth. If I don't win, I'll buy it. It is amazing how a MS can change from first draft to published book. Interesting how the take away was transformed in your story. Super de duper post. Happy Halloween! May yours be spooktacular!

Veronica Bartles said...

Slashing words and subplots is so hard sometimes, but every time I've worked up the courage to do it, my manuscripts have improved. :)

GENIE WISHES sounds like such a fun book! I'm looking forward to reading it. <3

Tabatha said...

Nice slasher segue, Laura! It's interesting to hear about how Elisabeth's book evolved -- you have to be pretty trusting to take out something that feels integral. I'm glad it worked out.

You are the second 4th doctor I've seen in the last half hour (the first was a 10th grader).

Linda B said...

I'm amazed that when one has such a seemingly important part of a plot, that it can be eliminated, and the book can take an even more important turn. I loved hearing the process, and think there are quite a few young women who will love the book. Thanks Laura and Elisabeth.

Unknown said...

Laura, I love the idea of a "Kill Your Darlings" series. And the Halloween/slasher segue is great.

Also, as someone who has unsuccessfully cut my own hair a few times (do not ask to see a picture of me with bangs), I soooo get your editing analogy, Elisabeth,in more ways than one. Thanks!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Love your editing/haircut analogy! Yet still it's easier to pick up a scissors than to pick up a red pen. Maybe because hair grows back by itself.

Took me a while to get to this post, but I'm glad I did. Genie Wishes sounds like a book my daughter would love!

Rhonda Lancaster said...

This is great advice. For those of us without editors (yet), I think it highlights the importance of a writing group.
p.s. Laura, love the Star Trek red shirts reference and really love the girl-style Doctor Who costume.