World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Killing Your Darlings

on November 13, 2013

WIP It Wednesday, revision edition

120px-Executioner

Most people know that the phrase “Kill Your Darlings” is not just the title of a new movie about the early Beat poets starring Daniel Radcliffe. It’s a term, variously attributed to William Faulkner, Stephen King,  and others, that writers use to remind themselves that when you’re revising, no matter how much you’re in love with a joke or a turn of phrase or a particular passage of prose, if it doesn’t work for the overall good of the book, it has to go. As I revised the last portion of the Snark and Circumstance e-novella series, I whacked a lot of darlings this morning. It was a virtual bloodbath here, with some phrases cut down quite easily and painlessly, others struggling and clinging to life even as I knew they deserved to die. But an executioner has to be heartless, so the blade came down; noble sacrifices of parts were made for the good of the whole.

And as I was revising, I was thinking that sometimes “kill your darlings” is almost more literal. Sometimes you have to kill the characters you love, your almost flesh-and-blood darlings – or at least let really bad things happen to them. And that’s a lot harder (unless you are GRR Martin, apparently).

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To be honest, I used to scoff a bit at this notion. Duh, they’re characters, not real, I would think. But I have to tell you that when you spend a lot of time with these fictional people, inside and outside your own head, it becomes a lot harder to be disinterested in their welfare. Yet at some point in any narrative, your main characters have to come up against some serious chiz, be tested to the point of breaking, and that’s when some weird authorial maternal instinct kicks in for me and I want to protect them from all the pain and sadness in the world. But if I did, that would make for one really boring book. (And mean I have a pretty dangerous ego investment in identifying with my characters, perhaps).

So I had to suck it up and let my snarky self-rghteous teenage heroine, Georgia, get her much-deserved comeuppance.  For those of you who have admitted in reviews of the Snark series that you want to slap Georgia, I’ve got some good news for you: fate and her own ego slap her silly in this last installment. I had to let her be humiliated and regretful because that’s not just good plotting – sometimes that’s the only way to learn. In life and in fiction, I think, you have to earn your happy ending. And in Prom and Prejudice, I think Georgia earns hers.

I discovered something else through this revision process, but I’ll save that for next week: perfectly healthy writers can develop crushes on their male “romantic leads” and it is neither unhealthy nor creepy. I hope.

Stay tuned.

what I’m reading

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what I’m listening to 

Image(I can’t believe this is thirty years old)

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