By Pat Stoltey
The setting for my first mystery, The Prairie Grass Murders, was central Illinois. A man's body was discovered in a field on a farm that strongly resembled the farm on which my younger brother and I grew up. The protagonists of the Sylvia and Willie mysteries are also brother and sister.
What an opportunity, I thought, to use my memories to help create my story's setting. There are things I could never forget: the oily smell of the wood workbench in the tool shed, the reek of ammonia in the chicken house, the vicious white rooster that guarded the barnyard, the sweet scent of our lilac bush, or biting into a warm tomato fresh from the garden.
In the first writing, two of the chapters were memory dumps, reading more like memoir than mystery. The descriptions were lovely (if I do say so myself). The incidents charming, even amusing. But there were two problems. (1) The memories had nothing to do with the story, and (2) they were plunked into the middle of tension-building scenes, which destroyed the pacing.
You know what that meant. I had to scratch them out. Select and delete. It wasn't easy.
It helps me to save deleted blocks of my writing in a separate file, or retain a copy of the original draft. If I know the wording is not gone forever, that I can retrieve it for a personal essay or a short story, it's less traumatic to kill my darlings.