Friday, January 17, 2020

Killing Your Darlings

RIP Darling!
By Shari Randall

Of all the writing rules out there – and there are a lot – the one every writer knows is “Kill your darlings.” Stephen King expanded on this advice from William Faulkner (at least he did according to Google) and said “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” 

Darlings. Those lines of dialogue, those descriptions, those witty one liners that we writers love, that make us proud. That make us think, “that’s a good one. That’s writing!” The chapter that makes us laugh, or shudder as we sit at the keyboard. The character we enjoy so much we’d like to take him out to lunch. 

The problem is, well, there could be lots of problems, and the biggest is my reluctance to hit the delete button on those darlings. Stephen King is right – killing my darlings does break my egocentric little scribbler’s heart. I find myself arguing with, well, myself about the fate of those darlings:

The dialogue doesn’t ring true to the characters. But it’s funny…
The description is too long. But it’s sheer poetry!
That chapter is so exciting. But it doesn’t further the plot…
That character is so much fun to write. Does the world really need another homicidal prom queen?

But, but… I love my darlings, especially some of my characters. So I’m going to bid them a fond farewell here before I hit DELETE.

A fond pat on the head to Spumoni, the loveable mutt from Fairweather Farm.  Scrappy and loyal, tail always wagging, Spumoni was a little too good for his own good. I needed a farm pet that would get into trouble. So bye-bye Spumoni and hello Hairy Houdini, an irascible miniature goat who never met a pen he couldn’t escape.

The police department of my tiny Connecticut town had too many named characters, so thank you and farewell Officer Moskovitz, enjoy your retirement in Florida.

Ah, Lu Fairweather, slender and dark, with a strip of gray highlighting your artistic brow (probably because I was reading that biography of Susan Sontag while I was writing you). Au revoir. ! I will miss your feminine mystique, your dangling Elsa Peretti earrings, your French press coffee and no filter cigarettes, your air of disdainful sophistication. 

Have you had to kill any darlings lately? Feel free to give them a shout out below.

Shari Randall is the author of the Agatha Award winning debut, Curses, Boiled Again. Her latest book is Drawn and Buttered.

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