Kill your darlings

Kill your darlings. Throw them in the bin. Writers say that all the time. I’ve heard my author L say it under her breath, referring to portions of the novel she’s writing about me. I’ve seen her do it, and it gives me the shakes. In the course of crafting any piece of writing, there comes a time when the author has to jettison portions of her own work. Writing she’s come to love, writing that strikes her as brilliant. Entire set pieces, or windy, philosophy-laden paragraphs, or jazzy little riffs. Entire chapters, sometimes.

Kate on a rulerThis sort of violence is more than a little upsetting for the character who has to live with the carnage. Sometimes those darlings are my darlings too. Here’s a for instance: L likes to make jokes based on humourous wording she discovers on signs and labels and in classified ads. I share her sense of humour in this regard, and so she lets me use these jokes in the novel she’s writing about me. For example, there’s the one about the nurse whose name tag reads Nurse B. Lowe. In the section L recently cut from the novel, I’m at the hospital, and Nurse B. Lowe is looking after me. I read her name tag out loud: Nurse B. Lowe, I say, can you tell me where I might find Nurse A. Bove? Funny, right? I think so. But L has cut the entire section where that line appeared.

I’m not saying it’s easy for L. She has to, as I said, cut out sections she’s come to love. She’s come to love them because she stumbled on the apt verb only after an hour-long walk in the fresh air. Or she’s come to love them because the words seemed to flow effortlessly through the keyboard or the tip of a ballpoint, and the apt verb was there right from the start. She spends ages dreaming up this stuff and crafting it just so. But if the story’s changed since she wrote a particular bit, and now that bit is working against the rest, it’s got to go. Or maybe it doesn’t work against the story, but nor does it add anything. The idea that fascinated her when she wrote it is, to be honest, quite likely to bore anyone else. Or it’s writing she did in order to understand a character, and that was a necessary part of her process, but she doesn’t need to drag the reader along through all the brambles and scratches of her process.

I miss my little nurse joke. I know it’s still sitting on L’s computer, inside a folder labelled Darlings. Even though she’ll probably never go back to them, it makes her feel better, less insecure, to store her culls away in a safe place. So in fact, she doesn’t really murder her darlings, she preserves them cryogenically. (Does she hope that one day science will find a cure for what ails them?)

I’m on a campaign to get L to splice the nurse joke back in. After all, I do end up in hospital before the end of the novel. Maybe we can get L to give me back the joke. Clap your hands, everyone.

Number of significant darlings murdered in the course of writing this post: 4.

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5 Responses to Kill your darlings

  1. austinrryan says:

    I appreciate that you brought an interesting voice to this all too familiar issue. Whenever I killed my darlings I knew how I felt, but I never thought of what my characters might think of it. Awesome piece!

  2. My apologies, Austin! I visited your blog, and still I flipped it.

  3. Pingback: CBC longlist. Thank you. | Always Under Revision

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