Killing your darlings

It’s a bonus post!  That’s right, as a special treat from that all-around wonderful author, Lisa McKay, I’ve got another guest post for you!  As I’m sure every writer out there can, I totally relate to the pain that comes with the necessity of “killing your darlings.”  Sometimes it’s quite easy, but sometimes it really is murder.  Today, Lisa shares her thoughts on killing your darlings.

Last week, after a string of awful nights, I decided to write a children’s story.  The fun I had writing this little story did not make up for the exhaustion and aggravations of the previous week, but it helped.  As I rhymed my way through verses about dogs, roosters, mosquitoes and various other midnight misadventures I even found myself laughing.

My 2nd favorite line was the one about wishing all the roosters would die, but my absolute favorite line of the whole piece came at the end of the stanza about mosquitoes.

It’s 4, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
She hears a buzz, the mosquito trademark
Little legs brush her cheek like lace
She swipes, misses, and hits her own face
She lies in bed, begins to count sheep
One, two, eight hundred… [beep beep beep beep]

As I wrote this last line I was thinking about the sorts of things that I feel tempted to say every time I’m woken up by one of those little winged demons in the middle of the night.

I intended the “beep beep beep beep” to be a stand-in for language that is, uh, slightly salty.  I found the image of Mama Bear unable to get back to sleep and lying there swearing at the mosquitoes was enormously, therapeutically, funny.

Except…no one else got it (at least, not that I know of).  Everyone I’ve asked said they thought those beeps were an alarm clock.

Don’t you hate it when  your favorite line just doesn’t work outside your head???

Samuel Johnson is reputed to have said, “Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I know I have been guilty (and probably will be again) of working entirely too hard to keep lines and scenes that I like even when they do not serve the overall story well.  I have also been known to be petulant and resistant when told that lines and phrases I particularly like are not communicating what I want them to say.

I often need a lot of time and distance (more than I generally like to allow) to work up the dispassionate editorial eye that tells me when I need to “kill a darling.”  I’m slowly getting better at this, but I’m not sure it’ll ever come easily.

As for my children’s story… I don’t quite know what to do.  I could change the last line of that mosquito stanza to [beep &*$@(*! beep] or the more elegant [bleep bleep bleep bleep] which may better convey my original intent.  Or I could leave it alone and accept the fact that my genie has purposed for good (or, at least, clean) what I purposed for evil (or, at least, naughty).

Once again, many thanks to Lisa McKay for being such a wonderful guest all week!  Be sure to check out her website and her books, My Hands Came Away Red and Love at the Speed of Email!  And don’t forget to check out the children’s story linked to above – it’s guaranteed to make you smile. 🙂

(c) 2012.  All rights reserved.

6 thoughts on “Killing your darlings

  1. Roger says:

    I absolutely hate deleting lines that I think are particularly fine – not that it happens too often. Sometimes I’ve eventually agreed that they have to go, but I’m prone to falling in love with my own words.


    • Kay Lynn says:

      I once wrote a flash fiction piece. It was apocalypse, which I’d never written before, and which really isn’t my cup of tea. My husband enjoys it, though, so I had him look it over for me and point out areas he felt could use some improvement. He wanted me to cut out all the best parts and nearly chewed through his own tongue when I explained as sweetly as possible why they must not, under any circumstances, be cut. I now have three drafts of that story and it’s much better without all those bits, but they were awfully fine lines, if I do say so myself. 😉


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