Thursday, March 17, 2011

Late but Great

Ever heard of killing your darlings? If you write, and you intend for your writing to entertain, provoke, or teach any sort of public audience, then you ought to get acquainted with that phrase. "Killing your darlings" refers to the deletion of select word acrobatics. All those tasty landscape descriptions, poetic statements, even that awesome line where you liken the protagonist's mother's sweater to two harp seals in heat--some of them have to go. Not all of them. But some. Because no matter how awesome they are, or how meaningful they are to you, some of them will get in the readers way. They will stand up like big, fat, jarring (but so beautiful!) speed bumps in your narrative. 

Evelyn Lafont of Keyboard Hussy says it well in this blog post:
"When you like what you write, you run the risk of writing too much . . . I can think of about 50 ways to describe the tree outside my window, and each of the descriptions is so good it makes my nipples hard, but that doesn’t mean I need to shove all of them in."

My method? Don't think about it as you are writing. Make your magic, then go back and hack it up later. Just don't get too attached to your darlings on the way, because some of them must end up on the killing floor later on. 

Oh well. 

In other news this week: I finished Lamb by Christopher Moore. Since it took me two and a half months to read it, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I know that it has some hilarious zingers about Buddhism, sex, angels, and bacon, and I know that I'd recommend it to others. I also know that I should have brushed up on some New Testament before taking it on. Those unfamiliar with the Bible in general probably won't have much fun with Lamb. I myself wondered: "Why is Moore adding so many seemingly pointless characters and seaward journeys all of a sudden?" And then I remembered: "Oh, duh, he has to, because Jesus had like 12 apostles and he went sailing a lot." Anyway, if you've got a Christian background like me, and you're sick of how most Christians seem to miss our Lord's main point entirely ("Be nice to everyone, even creeps"), then you're likely to enjoy it.

Next up: Freedomland by Anne Bean, The Unnamed (Joshua Ferris, hubba, hubba), and The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffeneggar)--my first attempt at enjoying an audiobook! Hey, if NPR loses its funding, I have to have something to listen to on my lunch break, right? Right?!



  1. I tend to go back and have to ADD stuff on second draft because I whip through the first ones so fast. Good for you for not holding back though!

    Easiest time I ever had killing my darlings was when I adapted my book into a screenplay. My buddy was like, this side plot adds nothing to the proceedings and adds 20 minutes to the runtime. I realized he was right, sat with it for a minute, and then we chopped it. I'm still surprised at how easy it was, for some reason.

  2. "Killing my darlings" how descriptive and evocative. I've had to do it many times and, in critiquing a 'friends' work keep pointing out to him that in hise editing he had reduced his story until only his favourite lines were left; and it was still bad.

    It's much the same as having a story inside you, I liken that to being pregnant. You won't abort it so you just have to wait until it comes out.