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Monday, January 13, 2020

RIP Darlings!

By Shari Randall

Of all the writing rules out there – and there are a lot – the one every writer knows is “Kill your darlings.” Stephen King expanded on this advice from William Faulkner (at least he did according to Google) and said “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” 

Darlings. Those lines of dialogue, those descriptions, those witty one liners that we writers love, that make us proud. That make us think, “that’s a good one. That’s writing!” The chapter that makes us laugh, or shudder as we sit at the keyboard. The character we enjoy so much we’d like to take him out to lunch. 

The problem is, well, there could be lots of problems, and the biggest is my reluctance to hit the delete button on those darlings. Stephen King is right – killing my darlings does break my egocentric little scribbler’s heart. I find myself arguing with, well, myself about the fate of those darlings:

The dialogue doesn’t ring true to the characters. But it’s funny…
The description is too long. But it’s sheer poetry!
That chapter is so exciting. But it doesn’t further the plot…
That character is so much fun to write. Does the world really need another homicidal prom queen?

But, but… I love my darlings, especially some of my characters. So I’m going to bid them a fond farewell here before I hit DELETE.

A fond pat on the head to Spumoni, the loveable mutt from Fairweather Farm.  Scrappy and loyal, tail always wagging, Spumoni was a little too good for his own good. I needed a farm pet that would get into trouble. So bye-bye Spumoni and hello Hairy Houdini, an irascible miniature goat who never met a pen he couldn’t escape.

The police department of my tiny Connecticut town had too many named characters, so thank you and farewell Officer Moskovitz, enjoy your retirement in Florida.

Ah, Lu Fairweather, slender and dark, with a strip of gray highlighting your artistic brow (probably because I was reading that biography of Susan Sontag while I was writing you). Au revoir. I will miss your feminine mystique, your dangling Elsa Peretti earrings, your French press coffee and no filter cigarettes, your air of disdainful sophistication. 

Have you had to kill any darlings lately? Feel free to give them a shout out below.

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mysteries from St. Martin's Press. Her latest are Drawn and Buttered and The Queen of Christmas.



13 comments:

Kait said...

Alas, poor darlings, I knew you well! (Sorry, Bill, couldn't resist)

Keep those darlings in a darlings file, you never know when you will need them again. We're writers, nothing goes to waste. I'm rather partial to Spumoni, by the way. All of this murder is painful, but necessary. My last darlings were entire chapters, but they were SOOOOOOO GOOOOD - bye.

Annette said...

I had one of those scenes that was fun to write, made me laugh when I wrote it, and beautifully showed the setting. My editor burst my bubble when her notes said "this is interesting but get to the meat of the scene faster." She was right, but cutting that one was HARD.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I save the really good stuff, especially deleted secondary characters and their dogs. I know you'll find a home for Spumoni.

Shari Randall said...

Kait - Why am I not keeping a file! I'll do that now.

Annette - Oh, editors! Why are they always right? Now I want to read that scene. I bet it was terrific.

Margaret - Spumoni may return in another book. I like his name too much - and his sweet disposition.

Kaye George said...

Don't kill them! Yes, put them in a file. You MIGHT be able to use them somewhere else. Sometimes a secondary idea is just too big. It needs to have its own story.

Sherry Harris said...

Great post, Shari. You are very brave. And Hairy Houdini is hilarious!

Barb Goffman said...

You are so funny. Maybe Spumoni can find a role in a future plot. He sounds like too good a boy to not get the chance to wag his way into readers' hearts eventually.

Storyteller Mary said...

Kaye and Barb remind me that Bradbury wrote of a drawer in which he saved pages that didn't work, material for future writing. You are in great company. <3

Grace Topping said...

The sign of a good writer is one who is wise enough to recognize what darlings need to be cut. When I first started writing, I resisted cutting my darlings. After rejections, I went after them is a sharp knife. A few hung on tenaciously and survived, but I'm getting better at it.

Shari Randall said...

Kaye, Mary, Grace - I'm going to start a file!

Sherry - you have to be brave, too!

Barb - Spumoni is a good boy. That's why it hurt to cut him. But maybe in Book Two....

Tonette Joyce said...

Yes, but not one darling, four of them, all part of a subplot. All of their fears, desires, good and bad behavior, gone. I kept them as 'atmosphere', additional parties on a boat trip, but none of their story, none of their plottings, (for good or evil), will see the light of day.

Warren Bull said...

Wait! I have a pardon from the Governor. They are to be released to the half-way house located in the drawer for future use.

KM Rockwood said...

Sometimes those darlings are just dying to find a place as the main attraction in a short story.