Killing Your Darlings

I need to do something here, people.

No, I’m not going to perform an alien autopsy (too messy) or jump on a couch to profess my love for Katie Holmes. (She seems lovely but we’ve never met.)
I need to say hello to Paula from Baltimore. * waves * Hello, Paula from Baltimore! Now, you may rightly be asking, “Who is Paula?” Oh, silly people. She’s Paula! You know…from Baltimore?
Wait…you don’t know Paula from Baltimore? Huh. Well, she’s cool.  I’m sure you’d like her.
Here’s the story: A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Baltimore Book Festival where I met Paula for the first time and I promised I would blog about it all. Except I didn’t. * facepalm * So in September, when I had the pleasure of attending the Baltimore Book Festival again (in the pouring rain—thank you so much, stalwart book lovers, for coming out in that wet mess. You rock!), Paula walked up to me and said, “Libba Bray, I have a bone to pick with you.” She gave me the stern face. Paula gives good stern face. I’m just saying. I could feel my butt firmly entrenched on the naughty mat from whence I rarely stray. I’m usually in trouble for something. Just ask my friends. Anyhoo, Paula pointed out my transgression and I promised her that I would give her a shout-out here on the blog. So, HEY PAULA! HOW’S IT GOING DOWN THERE IN BALTIMORE?
Now, I have made good, and when next we meet, Paula will not give me the frowny face.
I am hard at work on the second draft of THE DIVINERS. Second draft is really a misnomer as there are a gazillion revisions, large and small, that go into the writing of a book. Everything from revising two lines of dialogue so that it sounds more authentic to moving chapters around to throwing out entire sections that—sad as it is—simply must go.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Kill your darlings.” This refers to the arduous process of cutting things from your manuscript which you may very well love—perhaps you find them clever or you like a set-up or turn of phrase. But somewhere along the way, as the writing takes its twists and turns, you realize that those things you love no longer really serve the story. Maybe it serves your ego or that burning desire you've always harbored to write a wombat love story filled to the brim with witty wombat banter. (Those wombats, so devilishly clever with a line. Also, try saying "witty wombat banter" three times fast. I just did and I had to untie my tongue at the end.) But serve the actual story? Not so much.
This just happened this past week. In the original draft, I had written a scene that takes place at a big, Gatsby-esque party. I’d spent weeks lovingly crafting scenes of decadent partying, layering in social commentary, adding that dollop of simmering romance and a reflection on grief. There were some evocative passages about the moonlight on the Long Island Sound and the echoing light of the city in the distance. These are the moments as a writer that make you say, “Boo-yah!” and celebrate with a brownie. Then you scratch the scene’s tummy and say, “Who’s a pretty chapter! Who’s a pretty chapter, huh? You are! Yes, you are you are you are, hunny bunny puddin’ pie.” (This is ugly. I usually try to spare you from knowing these things, gentle reader. But it’s time you saw the world for what it is…a deeply strange and uncomfortable place populated by many drive-thrus.)
So I was very happy with this scene. It was dandy, EXCEPT….that it stopped the story dead. DEAD. Crickets chirping. Hell, I probably would have tried to work those chirping crickets into the TOTALLY DEAD scene and pretended it was metaphor.
My editor, Alvina Ling, gently suggested that I might consider cutting it. Two dear friends who also read the manuscript early on suggested the same thing. “But it has pretty imagery,” I said. “And someone vomits in a funny way.” They looked off into the distance and said nothing.
Now, I love me a challenge (please see: Wombat Love, the Musical!), and I thought, “There has to be a way to make this work!” So I spent several days trying to do just that. Turning it this way and that. Playing with the placement of the scene—perhaps if it took place earlier or later in the action? And then, the realization began to sink in, like when you understand that no amount of make-up will cover that zit and calling it a “mosquito bite” isn’t fooling anyone. That scene, pretty as it may have been, full of stylish ennui and one amusing vomiting moment just wasn’t cutting it. To quote the great Bette Davis, “It. Won’t. Play.” (Thank you, Margo Channing.)
With a heavy heart, I axed it. But the funny thing is, once I cut that scene, I was liberated. I went on a cutting rampage. As of this posting, I’ve jettisoned five of the original chapters and ripped out an entire character storyline, which I am now retooling so as to make it more germane to the plot. (Usually a good idea in general.) It’s like the eleventh hour of “Project Runway”, after you find out that you have to start your couture clown dress all over using only staples and a few handfuls of fertilizer, and then Tim comes in, takes a look at the dirt and staples all over you, your bloodshot eyes and borderline psychotic grin, puts his finger to his mouth in a thoughtful way and says, “I’m concerned.” And you say, “No, Tim, it’ll all work out—I swear!” And you staple some fertilizer to the floor and laugh.
This revision is due in…* squints at calendar *… 22 days. My manuscript has been blown apart and is in complete “I don’t know what I am yet” tatters. I am fully psychotic and so terrified that I’m living on coffee and Tums and sometimes I go up to perfect strangers, pet their faces and say, “You have a beautiful light inside you. Shhh, don’t speak. Let’s just have this moment together. You smell good.” Interestingly, I have not been arrested yet.
But the game’s afoot. And hopefully, when that dress heads down the runway, it will be, “I had no idea it was made with staples and fertilizer!” and not, “You know what this novel needed? A funny vomit moment.” 

See you on the flip side.

2 thoughts on “Killing Your Darlings

  1. Hi there! I am a huge fan of work…your writing has meant a lot to my life and I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for all you have done despite your struggle.

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