Ah, the perpetual love between a writer and their words. The prose is scripted, and the story comes to life. Once the first draft is completed, the tale is ushered off to an editor for light review, minor edits are made by the author, and then the final draft is sent for publication. Yet, somewhere between the submission of the story to the editor and the fruition of publication, something horrible happens. The story is returned to the writer, red-lined by the editor worse than a rambunctious murderer making knife-sliced blood splatter all over a nearby wall.
Those carefully crafted words that poured from the writers mind onto paper have been torn to shreds by the editor. Oh, how the heart of the writer falls into turmoil as they cry themselves to sleep. Their precious, precious words crossed out into oblivion.
Those chosen words – characters, dialogue, scenes, and settings – that the writer ingrained deep in their soul just don’t quite jive when they all join together on paper. Though the story has depth and an astounding message to tell, the complexities built out of all those bits of writing create a cesspool in the mind of the reader. The reader is muddled about what is going on in the story: The scene starts out with the sun is shining and birds flying on a warm breeze, but your main character is running around in jeans and a sweatshirt. Is he cold? No reason is given. You as the writer did not join your character with the scene. Your love of sweatshirts and jeans has muddied the waters. “I am confused” is the would-be statement from the reader. The true message of the story is lost in the murk, because of the writer’s inability to let go or change those “bad bits”.
That is when said writer needs to come to the conclusion, as so eloquently stated by William Faulkner, “In writing, you must kill your darlings”.
This notion was not new at the time when Faulkner uttered those brilliant words to would-be published authors everywhere. In the 1916 publication, On the Art of Writing, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch stated, “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 the press. Murder your darlings.”
For face value, it seems what both are alluding to are to kill off favorite characters, but that is not entirely true. Both quotes suggest that the writer not fall in love with their written words to the extent that they cannot bring themselves to delete any of the “bad bits”. A writer must look at their story as a whole and delete the pieces that don’t fit or muck up the message, whether that is scene, dialogue, or a character. Not one ounce of remorse should be shed for those who are dearly departed. Allowing this heartfelt attachment between the writer and words can and will obscure the message to the audience. In story crafting, the written words are not for the writer, but are for the characters, dialogues, scenes, message, and audience.
Become that first impartial view before sending your manuscript off to an editor. Have no qualms about eviscerating your darlings.
©2013, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivative – visit Amanda Headlee — It is Always Darkest Before the Dawn for the original source of this content.