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.



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?

Author spotlight

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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