Killer Year–The Class of 2007

Hunting Down Darlings
April 23, 2007, 12:38 pm
Filed under: Marc Lecard

I’m at the revision stage with the second book where the ms has a beginning, middle and end, is basically complete, but needs detail work–transitions, word choices, getting rid of repetition, etc.

Oh, and getting rid of all the well-written parts.

(To all of you muttering, “that shouldn’t take you very long,” I just want you to know: I heard that, and I know where you park.)

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I got that tough little piece of gristle from Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules for Writing.” Sure, his “rules” can and probably should be broken from time to time, and expressly don’t apply to every kind of writing. But for writing where the story is paramount (and that’s the kind of writing I try to do), Leonard’s ideal of writerly invisibility seems like a good one. Get over yourself. Get yourself out of the way of the story.

Kill your darlings. (Advice from William Faulkner. Or maybe Arthur Quiller-Couch.)

But what does it mean, anyway, “Kill your darlings”?

What is a “darling”? Stretches of writing–phrase, sentence, paragraph–that display themselves; they show off their expression, their turns of phrase.

It’s a hard one. I’d love to think it doesn’t apply to me. Why kill your darlings, after all? Aren’t they the best parts? Don’t they show that, hey, you really can write? Aren’t they just too cute, sitting there on the page, looking like, well, like poetry?

But that’s just the problem.

Calling attention to the medium is a poetic technique, the basic poetic technique, really.

What these little darlings do is call attention to the way they’re made.

That distracts from the story.

And that’s what it’s supposed to be about.

Isn’t it?

So if it sticks out, lop it off.

Getting rid of these chunks of self-conscious display makes my story clearer and stronger. (I think. I hope.)

(And after all, if it’s really that good, I can save it and use it in my blog . . .)


2 Comments so far
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I never have been a big fan of that saying. I guess I don’t have darlings, and if I did, I wouldn’t choose bits that don’t work for the story. 🙂

I agree with the points you made about writerly writing, though!

Comment by spyscribbler

We take as axiomatic the conceit that “it’s supposed to be about the story.” And nothing else. But obviously that’s bullshit. If it weren’t, we’d never bother to read anything but the Cliff’s Notes. Novels could all be 12-page long synopses. Movies could be a 10-minute PointPoint presentation of a storyboard. Music could all be performed on a recorder in the band room down at the junior high school.

If the writing is part of what makes the piece complete, it stays. If not, then you lop it off. But this notion that we have to get rid of beautiful writing that stands out as beautiful is a notion that pisses me off to no end. Does it always have to be a fucking Big Mac?

Comment by Bill Cameron

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