Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Killing Our Darlings

Photo via Too Friendly Theatre Co.
It's one thing to kill a character in say, a murder mystery.  Or even the bad guy in an action piece.

But do we have the guts to kill our darlings?

from Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
...Mr. Harrison was much harder to please.  First he told her there was entirely too much description in the story.
"Cut out all those flowery passages," he said unfeelingly.

Anne had an uncomfortable conviction that Mr. Harrison was right, and she forced herself to expunge most of her beloved descriptions, though it took three re-writings before the story could be pruned down enough to please the fastidious Mr. Harrison.

"I've left out ALL the descriptions  but the sunset," she said at last.  "I simply COULDN'T let it go.  It was the best of them all."

 "It hasn't anything to do with the story," said Mr. Harrison...
If it doesn't have anything to do with the story - if it doesn't help us understand our characters and their motivations, if it doesn't move the story along, then no matter how poetic or evocative or lyrical it is, we need to kill it.

Or, if that feels too traumatic, maybe we can cut and paste our beautiful passages into a file for future use elsewhere.  I've created a document called "My Precious" where I paste bits I've decided to cut from my WIP, in case I find them a good home elsewhere, later on.

Robert Heinlein said - somewhere (help, anyone?)

That if you were building a rocket ship

Apollo 15 launch from Wikimedia Commons

You wouldn't throw in a bathtub

from David Locke1 at Flickr

or a flowerpot

Photo from LoDLarsen at Flickr

just because you had a few extra hanging around.  Not if you want it to launch.

If we want our story to get off the ground, we have to channel our inner Achmeds.

Kill our darlings, those wonderful, poetic bits that simply aren't an intrinsic part of the story.

Come on, say it with me, "I keel you!"

Do you have a tale about not being able to kill your darlings?
And then later, it became painfully obvious that's what you needed to do?
Share it in the comments, below.