“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
Yes, this post will be about wholesale slaughter.
Of words, characters, and ideas.
Of little darlings—all those great lines, tightly written paragraphs, wonderfully surprising sub-plots, or dashing characters that please the writer, but will bore, or worse, confuse the reader.
I’ve never enjoyed doing that, murdering words. My words. Words I’ve worked very hard to fashion into sentences, paragraphs, scenes—whatever—words I’ve breathed life into. Spent hours with, shaping them.
It’s never easy to realize something you’ve worked so hard on simply isn’t working. Or that it doesn’t belong. That it must die.
Sure, there are often some attempts to save it. Telling myself that it will work— if only I could make just the right tweak. Often I straight up lie to myself, saying that enough people will enjoy it to leave it in. Pretend it’s all good in spite of what I know.
Don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
A Podcast Wakes me up.
After struggling for over a week with a beginning section of theBook of Visions, I listened to an episode from Writing Excuses, titled “Killing our little Darlings.” Hearing very successful writers discuss their own difficulties with this allowed me to accept the feeling I’d had been carrying in my gut. The one telling me that I had been wasting my time trying to get this sequence of scenes to work.
Even worse, I’d been about to waste my reader’s time—something they would never forgive me for. Nor read past the first chapter.
After all, writers make promises to readers in first lines. It tells the reader what they can expect, what experience they will have reading it.
Action promised, but not delivered.
TheBook of Visions starts with—
“The pages Gary gripped to his chest held the maps he needed to return home. To Earth. He had worked too hard, lost too much to let those people, those things, win.”The Book of Visions by W. Lance Hunt a work in progress.
This promises a different world. Action. Strange beasts. A hunt. A desperate escape back home. To earth.
Yet when I looked over what I’d written, I discovered 38 pages of Gary on the phone, riding the subway, getting into a scuffle—simply to find the portal. Then, he navigates the portal’s tunnels on his way to the different world promised in the first line for another 45 pages.
That’s 93 pages to get from his apartment in Brooklyn to the world of shadowy magic, devoted followers of wrathful gods, legendary heroes, and strange beasts.
Sure, I’d known the journey had to have some drama. I’d worked hard dressing it up with Gary’s experiencing the space between the multiverse. Tunnels that had been used by beings to explore the universe. Beings that people now call gods.
Sure, he tries to tell himself he’s not going insane.
Yes, he struggles with ruining his marriage.
Oh, and he is attacked by a Lovecraftian abomination that tries to eat his memories. (They taste spoiled and very bitter.)
But COME ON—93 pages just to get to the world the first lines promise all that action in?
My darlings were leeches in disguises of clever writing, and psychological drama, mixed in with ladles of wonder at and worry of a bizarre new world. But, as a naif, he could provide no understanding of this to the reader. I knew what’s going on. He didn’t. Nor would the reader.
Death before Too Much Attachment
This stuff needed to die. Soon. Before I became so attached I can’t let go. Before, any transforms into something too precious to die.
Thus, I have mapped out a blood bath on an excel sheet. This next week or two will see the murder of some 21,500 words.
Truth be told, they will live on in files. Some might find themselves reincarnated in flashbacks. Others could find a life on the internet as “DVD extras.”
After all, a lot of it is “sharply atmospheric.” Full of “masterful detail.” (Plus, I have grown attached to a lot of them.)