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Murder Your Darlings

Posted on Jul 15, 2010 in Publishing, Writing | 1 comment

In a twisted sort of way, I’m really enjoying this eviscerating editing process.  Back in May, I had finished what I thought to be my penultimate, if not final, draft.  After sending the first 5 pages to my mentor, who returned them with some pretty big (the word “eviscerating” is fair) edits, I realized I was making the same mistakes throughout the manuscript that needed to be dealt with.

It’s been a very cleansing experience, cutting out the big gunky mess of exposition or needlessly wordy descriptions.  The one painful part of the whole thing, though, is getting rid of really pretty stuff.

As a writer, little jolts of pride surge up my spine when I spin a turn of phrase that is just particularly lovely.   I’m an aesthete at heart, and style can often win me over instead of substance.  Call me shallow. . .

With joy I encountered this design from the delightful Merit Badger’s badge:

Kill Your Darlings

Merit Badger blogs here and creates these lovely little badges for writers.  My timing has been off for many of them, and blessedly I neither own a cat nor have earned the dubious honor of this badge.  Nevertheless, it is wonderful to have the support of an entire online community and cute swag when dealing with this very odd process of killing off your favorite parts of your art.

The badge above honors the murder of the writer’s favorite little Turns of Phrase.  God knows, the Libran aesthete that I am, it’s been hard.  Having an adorable merit badge quells the pain a bit.

Can I show you my very first cruelly dispatched darling?

Here, on the very first page, I’m describing my protagonist’s looks.  Then I say this:

Yet, somehow, in the slightly gawky combination of these features, there was a simple beauty- the wavelengths of too big and too small found in their opposite frequencies a harmony, such that there was no noise, only the elegance of a single tone, one that was pleasing but lacking a point of view and telling no story.

And you know what?  That phrase is pleasing but tells no story, too.   Hilariously, it foreshadows all the bulk to follow.  A pleasing tone that lacks point of view and tells no story.  The story of my story in places, it would seem.

So, with a hatchet rather than lancet, I set to work through my ms, hacking away at the wordy descriptions.   So far, I’m being gentle with myself- letting phrases that really just overjoy me with my literary brilliance stay in place for now.  But, I’m coming for them.  Slowly, stealthily, I creep up, ready to hack them to pieces.

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


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  1. Casey Lybrand

    I chuckled while reading about your editing, which you describe engagingly and with insight. You’ve made something lovely, here, out of your poor departed darlings.

    And it is an adorable badge. Congrats on earning it! (I’ll go after it someday, but I need to finish my first draft, first!)


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