Swoon Authors Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas: Sacrificing Your Darlings At the Editing Altar

Hello Swooners,

It is Tarun and Kelly! At least we think it’s us… we aren’t too sure of very much right now. In fact, we come to you by the good graces of coffee, tea, bad pizza, and many Cadbury Creme Eggs. The light is too bright and the noises are too loud, but it’s probably a good thing that we have finally emerged from our editing caves (at least for a day or two). As we finished up our most recent round of edits for These Vicious Masks and reflected on our experience with the editing process, we realized something: we’ve been in our editing caves for a long time.

A very.

Long.

Time.

Six plus years. Our manuscript would be attending first grade by now if that were a thing manuscripts did. (How adorable would that be?)

We spent a few weeks outlining and a month writing the first draft, but since 2009, it’s been in edit-mode — which has meant anything between several major structural and character changes that took months to fix, to throwing it in a digital drawer and forgetting about it for a time in order to look at it with fresh eyes.

Among the edits we’ve made are:

1. We changed the entire manuscript from first-person to third-person. And then back to first.

2. We changed the entire manuscript from present to past tense.

3. Evelyn, our main character, had the complete opposite personality as she does now.

4. We have killed off and revived a certain character many times.

5. Tarun once wrote an entire long, complicated dinner party scene and as soon as he showed Kelly, she made him delete it immediately.

6. We had to cut our overlong first act to the point that the original 10th chapter is now the 3rd.

7. We had a favorite “meet-cute” scene since probably the first draft, that made NO SENSE and added NOTHING and we didn’t even notice till Holly pointed it out. In fact …

8. We removed countless scenes and chapters that were once our favorite, including a tangential parody of Sense and Sensibility. (If you’ve read the manuscript before: We had Evelyn’s beloved sister break her ankle near the beginning, and instead of rescuing her, Sebastian Braddock runs in the other direction. It took a long time. They just watched him go. We are still amused. But it was not good.)

And there are countless more lost scenes and characters that got consolidated or simply became part of some strange alternate realities and fan fictions in our heads. Half or more of these changes are from before we even posted on Swoon Reads or met Editor Queen Holly (long may she reign!). At some point in this whole process, we went from gently, reluctantly killing our darlings to becoming stone-cold darling-killers. If Holly told us we needed to kill off our entire cast of characters in book two, we probably would. (JUST KIDDING NO WE WOULDN’T THAT WOULD BE HORRIBLE.)

We have always had a rule that the two of us must agree on everything that goes in the novel. And yes, that’s led to some darling-killing, but it’s also led to creative compromises that ended up better than either of us expected. It also allows us to get out of our own way, to make sure the story is told as well as it can be. Especially since we both have a tendency to be a little too delighted with our own side jokes or bits.

We are still writing crappy scenes. All the time. We had to completely change our epilogue this last round and Kelly wrote five totally different scenes before Tarun took over and wrote the right one. But we are better able to see that something doesn’t work or flow or add. The more we kill those little darlings, the easier it gets to see when they’re actually little monsters in disguise.

So Swooners, which darlings have been the hardest for you to kill off?

About the author - Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

Tarun and Kelly met in a freshman year writing class at NYU and started writing These Vicious Masks a few ...

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12 comments on "Swoon Authors Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas: Sacrificing Your Darlings At the Editing Altar"

Catherine Tinker on May 1, 2015, 12:35 p.m. said:

Catherine Tinker


“The more we kill those little darlings, the easier it gets to see when they’re actually little monsters in disguise.” Love this. Thanks for sharing your experiences! It’s very encouraging.

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Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas on May 1, 2015, 1:48 p.m. said:

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas


Thank you so much, Catherine. We are thrilled it’s encouraging! We started in college, much like a lot of other Swoon Writers. We queried and were rejected SO many times. We got SO close SO many times. It DID take 6 years. But we found our Swoon home. That HEA is out there!

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Kimberly Karalius on May 1, 2015, 1:57 p.m. said:

Kimberly Karalius


Thank you for this post, Tarun and Kelly!
I’ve also found that Editor Queen Holly makes it Imensly easy to see the darlings for what they are – moldable sometimes, but mostly monsters that need cutting, haha.
I completely agree with you about the alternate, fanficish universe the older versions of characters and plot stuff becomes as you move from one draft to the next.
I udnerstand, I get it, but this was like the funniest/best thing ever in my head: “We had Evelyn’s beloved sister break her ankle near the beginning, and instead of rescuing her, Sebastian Braddock runs in the other direction. It took a long time. They just watched him go. We are still amused. But it was not good.)”

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Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas on May 1, 2015, 2:40 p.m. said:

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas


Editor Queen Holly (EQH) is a pretty magnificent little monster spotter. What would we do without her?
I am SO glad you enjoyed our tangent. Maybe it will make it into the movie!

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Zelda Knapp on May 1, 2015, 5:01 p.m. said:

Zelda Knapp


I can’t wait to read the finished version!
Curious – what meetcute got cut? Was it in the manuscript you posted here?
As for my own dead darlings, i wrote a play once that had a character with one line. She was written to double with another character for the same actress, so it wasn’t like I was giving some starving artist the shaft. She came on, saw the main characters in a compromising position, said “Whoopsidaisy!” and left. It’s still my favorite line. But alas, she and her one word were eliminated.

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Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas on May 6, 2015, 10:05 a.m. said:

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas


Oh that is awesome. I see why it might have needed to go, but it IS hard to lose fun bits like that!!! Hopefully can be recreated in something else …!
And yep … meetcute might not be the right way to describe the first scene between Ev and one of her love interests, but one of their first scenes together has been chopped right out. In a good way!

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Vera Garnes Burris on May 1, 2015, 6:11 p.m. said:

Vera Garnes Burris


Always glad to hear from the Duo. Hard to believe that Evelyn used to have a different personality. How else would she have managed in London? This is one I’ll re-read when it’s done

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Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas on May 6, 2015, 10:06 a.m. said:

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas


Thanks Vera! Your comments as you read were so helpful. I am excited for you to read the final!
Yeah I don’t know what we were thinking about Evelyn’s personality before. She certainly has become something verrrrry different!

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Kate Evangelista on May 2, 2015, 12:38 a.m. said:

Kate Evangelista


Oh, come on, admit it. If Holly told you to kill off everyone for book two (Well, maybe not Mr. Kent, because reasons) you would definitely consider it. That’s how good she is. *wiggles eyebrows*
Great post! I’ve lived each and every instance you’ve described here in the name of making the story better. I can’t wait to read the finished product.

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Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas on May 6, 2015, 10:08 a.m. said:

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas


Ha! Thanks Kate!!! And yeah, I mean she could basically make us do anything at this point.
So looking forward to No Love Allowed as well! SO fun to see how things change and evolve during editing …!

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