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 brother and sister (although Sylvia is the youngest in this family and the pair is in their early sixties).
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 toolshed, 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) these stories were plunked into the middle of tension-building scenes, thereby destroying the pacing.
You know what that meant. I needed to scratch them out. Select and delete. Make them go away. It was hard, but it was necessary. The goal of self-editing is to make our manuscripts crisp and clean and ready for a full read by an agent or editor. The delete key is our friend.