I’ve killed me some darling’s in my time, let me tell you what! Yeah. But then again, I do remember a time when I didn’t know what that meant—I mean, I knew in theory, but in reality it only confused me. I could see obvious phrases or words that could come out, but “Darlings?”
How would I know a darling to be able to kill it? And if it was a darling, why didn’t I want to keep it. Ungh! Brain hurts! Brain hurts!
Guess what? The killing your darlings question, my friends, cannot exactly be answered by a writer giving advice, much as we may try. This, I believe, is one of those “Unteachable Things” that writers must figure out on their own. They must write (practice craft), and develop their own “style and voice;” have their AHA moment(s) and let the mists lift and things become clear—or not–hahahahahah! Yes! Writing is for the insaaaaane ! or for at least the mildly discombobulated. And even then it’s a whole lot of guessing or hoping or experimenting, or if you just ain’t getting it, asking someone else to read your manuscript and rip it to shreds–oh dear.
For the most part, knowing your Darlings to Kill versus Prose That Should Stay is subjective–at least until your readers read your published book, then subjection goes all out the window–flyyy flyyyy little bird and try not to crap on my car, please.
Have you ever watched deleted scenes in a movie and thought, “Oh geez, so glad they took that out!” But of course we are seeing the deleted scenes in the context of what we’ve just watched as a completed movie. Imagine if those deleted scenes were still in the movie (I am thinking of a magical ring and the endings that never wanted to end and how butts came off the seat, back down, off the seat back down and “is it over? wait, not yet” could be heard across theater-land). Some of them may bring out an eye roll or a “why did they put that unneeded fluff/extra gloppity doo in there?” or “I’m kind of bored right now;” or a “Hmm, a bit over-wrought/over-done/over-acted.” Oh, but because things can never be easy, maybe a scene or two or so could have fit right on in without a glitch and you may think: “Hey, that’s a cool scene; why’d they take it out?”
But folkses, one thing is for certain, most all of the time the deleted scenes are not missed as we watch the final movie–product–no one notices the place they once had in the movie, nothing explodes/implodes from the scene(s) not present in the movie, no one stalks to the movie director/producer/screenwriter’s door and smacks them upside the head sideways-to-silly for taking out that scene or scenes–and they had a reason for taking it out, right? riiiiggghht, even if Big Movie Head said, “This thang is too long. Cut it or I stop paying the bills,” while the screenwriter moans, groans, gnashes his/her teeth and cries him/herself to sleep for fifty-two days plus one.
And, most times we who watched the cut movie are not saying, “Something is missing here, I wonder if they deleted a scene?” Of course, to make things all mixed up and confused and angsty-poo, there may be times we say, “Wait, something is missing here . . . .” Ah, isn’t it an ever-moving vague wavery line made of pencil that can be erased and replaced, erased and replaced, and even misplaced retraced and whatever other “aced” you can think of? Hot Damn!, ain’t writing a whole sack o cra-cra? I mean, fun—yeah, fun! It’s fun fun fun fun fun fun fun *help me* fun fun fun fun fun.
Welp, all y’allses, it’s like this: we have to use our own judgment and instincts to kill our darlin’s—or find an editor or reader you trust to help. But, me? Huhn, I want to have control over my books. I want to KNOW. I want to be AWARE. And one way is to be true to who you are as a writer and stop trying to: show people what a great writer you are; show people you can write like/better than so and so; step in the way of your characters because you can make them better-stronger-faster-bionic! It’s your voice, your style, what you want to say and how you want to say it, but when you “try too hard” to be what you are not, to write what isn’t Yours, then what you have when you type “the end” may be bloated and gassy–urp. Grab that sucker by the ankles and shake the ding-dang-dong out of it. Turn it inside out and upside down and sideways. Give it some gas-ex.
There is no magic to writing you will find peeping through a magic keyhole (although, sometimes there really is magic in this writing life, isn’t there?–a wonder fairy-land of magicalnessess, right? riiighhht!) There is only the writing and tweaking and rewriting and editing and hoping and dreaming and doing the best we can and pulling out our hair and stomping our feet and then crying and laughing and grabbing the manuscript and kissing it and telling it how it is our true love and buying it flowers and asking it to . . . um, . . . *ahem* anyway . . . .
You can save a copy of your manuscript in another file if your stomach ties in knots because you just looooooooove a phrase or paragraph or scene soooooo much and you’ll just diiiie if it’s not in there. It’s easy to do: “save as” your manuscript under a different name, like “Darling Killer Take 1.” Use the re-named manuscript to rip the be-jeebus-dangity-doo out of it. Splash/dribble/sprinkle paint on it ala Jackson Pollock. Drip your sandwich mustard on it and then say, “this means something; this means something.” Wrinkle it up in a big-arse ball and dribble it down the court. Put a pink lip-print on it. Dress it in diamonds, and then rip off those diamonds and slap on some over-alls—no, wait, not overalls, no no never overalls! Gawd NO Not the Overalls! What about some simple dark jeans and a white shirt with a silver necklace. Wait, what are we talking about here–oh yeah, our manuscripts. teehee.
As well, your delete key can become your very best friend. I mean it. No, really. I know you keep seeing these words here: “The pweshush. The delete pweshush.” But remember, you have your original manuscript waiting all nice and comfy just in case you freak out once your nice manuscript has become unrecognizable. (Of course, there is the “knowing when to stay when and it is done so it’s not fiddle-danged to hell and back.” How do you know that? Guess that’s another thought for another day, and another subjective angsty-poo, to boot–hey, love those ooooo sounds, haw!)
A thought for you: how many times have you written something you thought was GOLDEN plucked straight from the GOLDEN tree of GOLDEN words, and then when you had someone read your work, they never mention that GOLDEN part, but instead, they mention some other part you hadn’t even paid attention to, and in fact, you almost deleted that scene because it seemed so, well, NOT GOLDEN, and you didn’t even find it that interesting. What the hellvitica? They liked that and not this wonderfulnessnessess? Well, rip me in two and call me double-danged. Hey, guess what? We writers aren’t always the best judge of what a reader will respond to and love. No, really. No, really. No, reeeaaaaallllly. I shrug.
Which, again, could make Killing the Darlings a frustrating exercise in our writing. Look folks, all we can do is use our gutty instincts, be true to ourselves and our characters and their world, write with heart and sincerity, stop thinking ahead of ourselves, and hope for the best. Right? Riggghhhht.
What do you have to say about Killing your Darlings?