Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chopping Up My Darlings

We writers have heard it (and repeated it) many times, that old line about murdering your darlings. I'd never seen it in context before, so I went a-lookin'. Here's a bit, courtesy of Bartleby:

Style, for example, is not—can never be—extraneous Ornament. You remember, may be, the Persian lover whom I quoted to you out of Newman: how to convey his passion he sought a professional letter-writer and purchased a vocabulary charged with ornament, wherewith to attract the fair one as with a basket of jewels. Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation, you have something which Style is not: and if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with 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

The latest version I've heard, and much more gently put, has been in several rejections: "beautiful writing, too quiet." I've been at this long enough to translate this agent speak: boring, boring, yawn. The last rejection used the word "beautiful" twice, ouchy.

But the good news is, the rejecting agent added, "Perhaps if you started with. . ." and here is where I get a little confused. She mentions events that occur in chapter 22 (out of 30 total chapters.) I vacillate between thinking she meant I should dump the first 21 chapters, or else simply tweak chronology, reshape, chop off a few fingers and toes, maybe a chemical peel, definitely some liposuction.

The second option seems too simple, so that is what I'm doing. Baby steps.

I am also coming around to the knowledge that my beautiful, beautiful prologue is a vain bit of ornamentation that may not survive the slaughter. I still harbor some hope that it might slip in somewhere later, when presumably my reader has learned to accept me, warts and all. But after having this funny feeling (like, wow, I love it, that can't be good) for way too long, reading this Pub Rant pretty much strapped my prologue to the chopping block.

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stephanie said...

I know what you mean. There's a weird line between wanting your work to be good for other people and wanting, desperately, to keep that scene in chapter whatever completely intact. I still haven't quite figured out how to handle it. I guess it all comes down to feeling? Like, if you know something is good and it should stay, then it should stay no matter what. Right? It's hard.

Shreds said...

It's always a wrestling match with my ego (mud, definitely, not jello.) One of the things I miss about having a mentor is the challenge to do something I didn't want to do or didn't think would work. And then finding out I was wrong. I've decided to embrace what I resist and see if that can work.
I actually keep all of my slaughtered darlings in a locked chest; maybe someday I can get around to making that quilt out of them.