Monday, March 14, 2011

Let It Go

Most writers are familiar with the phrase, "Kill your darlings". The actual quote, however, is this:
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings." - Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1916
I just took Sir Arthur's advice and killed one of my "darlings", an entire scene that I'd worked on for days. I LOVED this scene - it had some affectionate reminiscing on my main character's part, introduced a new character and added some local flavor, and the dialogue was fantastic, if I do say so myself. :-) But last night, I decided to do a total read-thru of the novel so far, and you know what? The scene didn't work. It was a beautiful in a stand-alone kind of way, but it did absolutely nothing to move the story forward. The new character was unnecessary, and so was the reminiscing. In fact, the scene slowed the pacing of the overall novel, which led me to take a deep breath, put my finger on the Delete key, and KILL IT.

The inability to kill your darlings has killed many a writer's career, in my humble opinion. We get so attached to the words we put on paper that we'll do anything to keep them; a tweak here, a move there, use this bit of dialogue somewhere else... when really, a clean break would be best for all concerned. We justify keeping it, thinking of all the time and effort that went into creating it in the first place, and not wanting to waste our prose or our time. But a good book is worth the time, and perfect prose may not always be perfect in the bigger sense - the BOOK is what's important, not the scene.

It's a tough lesson to learn, but liberating in its own way.  As a writer, I believe that nothing I've ever written has been wasted, even if no one ever reads it, because -- just like in life -- learning to let go is a lesson in itself.

Take a minute and think of something that you need to let go of, whether it's bad feelings toward a certain someone, or that pair of jeans you haven't fit into for at least five years.  :)  Go ahead and remember all the reasons why you're hanging onto to it (or them), then take a deep breath and LET IT GO.

Better yet, tell us all what it is you're willing to let go of, and you'll have a chance to get something in return:  some awesome bookmarks from Supernatural Underground authors like Pamela Palmer, Kerrelyn Sparks, Jeaniene Frost and Tera Lynn Childs, and a uber-cool "I Read Books That Go Bump In The Night" button.

Go ahead, kill a darling or two.  You'll feel better, I promise!  :)

18 comments:

Joss Ware said...

Ohhhh, Terri, I feel your pain! I hate having to murder my little monsters (to borrow from Lady Gaga).

I have been known to keep a scene or two for future...but as it turns out, I've never been able to use them anyway.

Sigh. There should be a recycle bin for those hours of blood, sweat and tears!!

Terri Garey said...

I know, Joss... I've wasted more time trying to keep certain scenes than I ever did just writing a NEW scene that fit! So hard to cut something you really like.

Sharon S. said...

okay you author peoples....you don't need to *kill them. Just exile them to a nice remote island. Then one day after your book is released you can have special section on your website of "deleted scenes" just like on a DVD. It would be a special little treat for the fans.

Who wants to join me in the fight to stop the needless violence against "darlings" P.E.T.D. (people for the ethical treatment of darlings) UNITE!!!!

Tracey O'Hara said...

I learned earlier on that the best thing to do is kill it sometimes. I have deleted whole scenes, chapters and even a whole story thread. I think one of the best lessons a writer can learn is to actually Kill your darlings. :)

Well Done Terri for seeing what was needed and doing it. :)

Terri Garey said...

Sharon, you are TOO funny! P.E.T.D., indeed!

KM said...

When I kill one of my "darlings," usually I copy and paste it into a separate document where I keep all my "killed darlings." That way, they're no longer in the MS, but I can go back and read them if I want :)

Stacie said...

It is so funny that today you have blogged about letting stuff go. I am currently in the process of doing my annual Spring Purge of stuff. I've pulled out everything from the cabinets and closets and have sorted it all into different piles. My house is a total disaster area! LOL

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Terri Garey said...

Wow, Stacie, that's being WAY more ambitious than I'll ever be! (Although I did just clean out the attic a few months ago, after watching an episode of HOARDERS.) :)

Michele said...

I am curious is it like killing a part of you when you have to kill off a character you create. Do you mourn the character the way that you mourn a person?

Terri Garey said...

Michele,

I've never killed a character I was attached to, only the bad ones who I knew were going to die in the end anyway. :)

If I DID have to kill off a beloved character, I'd probably cry while writing the scene, because if I, the writer, doesn't feel the pain of it, then the reader probably wouldn't either!

Cath's Chatter said...

I hardly ever kill anything, although I'm far from what many may call hoarding.
My husband despairs at my overflowing book shelves in particular and regularly tells me to get rid of my precious 'babies'!!!!
I will occasionally have a purge but then head out and buy more!

Helen Lowe said...

I'm working on the second draft of "The Gathering of the Lost" (The Wall of Night Book Two) right now, Terri, and your words definitely resonate. And didn't Chekhov say that every original ms should be pared down by at least a third (or words to that effect)?

Nicole Murphy said...

RAther than leave corpses lying around, I kidnap them and trap them in another document. Maybe they'll be released, maybe not. Isn't as messy though :)

One thing I've been thinking about killing is part of my TBR pile. I know there are books there that I bought for good intentions but realistically, I'm never going to read. And having them sit there and taunt me with their un-readiness is really offputting.

So today I will do it - I'll be harsh but fair and kill some of the darlings of the TBR pile. All the better to replace them with books I WILL actually read :)

Terri Garey said...

Helen, I can honestly say that the book I just turned in to my editor was at least one third longer, originally. I wrote, deleted, wrote and deleted, but it was all a part of the process!

Terri Garey said...

Nicole, go for it! Life's too short for books you don't really want to read!

Abby Minard said...

It's hard to kill part of your 'baby'! But it has to be done sometimes. I just got rid of a whole character's POV because he didn't really contribute to the story.

Kirsten said...

I don't kill anything in my journal. Used to do it al the time, you know the morning after: tearing out the pages for it seemed to honest, raw or revealing. Now I just leave it be and don't re-read. It's not as if anyone is going to read it and so what if I was a little melodramatic.

nymfaux said...

I don't think I have enough on paper to kill anything yet...but I'll keep it in mind for down the road.

Usually if there's something I like that doesn't fit where I want it to, I set it aside and save it in case it fits somewhere else down the line...