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.


Brooklyn Ann said...

I know exactly how you feel. I have one of those scenes (which does, in my defense, introduce an important setting) that slows the pace of the novel, hell, it halts it. I'm either going to have to change it a lot or delete it totally.

Terri Garey said...

Hi Brooklyn,

My advice would be to take the tough route, delete it entirely and introduce the setting another way. It'll be painful, but you'll move forward a lot quicker! (I speak from painful experience!)