Paula has ‘killed her darlings’!
Several years ago, when I
first heard the phrase ‘Kill Your Darlings’, I thought it referred to the
characters an author killed off. Since I don’t write murder stories, or
thrillers where characters are bumped off in a variety of gruesome ways, I
thought it was something I didn’t need to think about.
However, it appears the
phrase originated with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who wrote: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally
fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your
manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.
He was referring to passages
that you may think represent some of your best writing. I’m not sure I really
have any of those, but I think it can equally refer to killing words,
paragraphs, scenes, and even chapters in your story that aren’t necessary, even
though you may have sweated blood over them while writing your first draft.
I had plenty of experience of
this during the first dead-end drafts of ‘Irish Intrigue’. A scene where the
heroine slips and breaks her ankle had to go as it proved too ‘inconvenient’
for her to be immobilised for the next few week. Similarly a Christmas Eve
scene also had to go because it brought the hero and heroine together much too
quickly. Although I loved both those scenes, they simply didn’t work with the
rest of the story – so I had to kill them (but I’ve kept them in a separate
file just in case I want to use them sometime in the future).
As well as deleting scenes
that don’t work, there are also the scenes that aren’t necessary. I deleted
several of these in ‘Irish Intrigue’. Two were of the heroine interacting with
the hero’s two children. I thought they were necessary to show her growing
relationship with them – but did the scenes need to be so long? One of them
covered over two pages. Highlight and delete – ouch! I loved the scene, but
managed to convey what was necessary in half a page.
Conversations, too, can be
cut or at least shortened. My characters do have a tendency to rabbit on, and
my huge word cull for ‘Irish Intrigue’ showed me plenty of occasions when I
could cut unnecessary chunks from their conversations. In one case I deleted a
whole phone conversation between my heroine and her best friend. I thought I
needed it to show the heroine’s confusion and conflicted feelings, but it was
actually just a rehash of information and feelings the reader already knew.
My mantra became: Does this add anything to the story or to
the characters? Is it absolutely
necessary? If not, out it went. I won’t say I didn’t have some regrets at
times, but ‘killing my darlings’ did in the end make the story sharper and
faster-paced, and I learned a lot from doing this which I hope will stand me in
good stead for future stories.