Friday, 7 January 2011

Kill your darlings!

PE01602_ A little while ago I said that I was returning to my first novel because something that had been niggling at me suddenly made sense and I was embarking on changing that particular strand of the story. While I was at it I realised the death of another character felt a little off too. Not that she died, but the manner in which she died. So I've been thinking and thinking about that and I've come up with another way of killing her off that is much better. At the moment she dies of meningitis, which she catches while nursing a young soldier that reminds her of her son. I'm keeping the part where she nurses the boy soldier, but that's not what kills her in the end. So now there's no death-bed confession which I always felt was a little awkward. The death-bed confession is a bit of a cliché, but there were lines in her death scene that I loved so much I was loathe to cut it. I could hear my lecturers screaming "Kill your darlings!!" but I couldn't at that point. Now that I have the distance and am editing another element of it I'm able to look at it more objectively and see that what I'm planning to do now works a lot better. It creates a much more believable reason for her husband to be guilty which is very important to the story.

It really is amazing how much of a difference a break can make. I was working for about six month solid last year on actually writing and then I ploughed straight into editing. I know now that that was the wrong thing to do because I was very quickly bored. I'd been churning out on average 1,000 words a day and for that to come to an abrupt halt really didn't help the editing process, which is a frustrating, lengthy and quite boring process anyway. Next time I think I'll start on something else and get that going before I come to edit something. That way I've got something to write as a "reward" for doing some editing.

I'm also only just really learning that the phrase "Kill your darlings" is totally true. The two plot strands that I'm changing - the marriage of the hero's lover and the death of his wife - were ones that I doggedly hung onto because they made the story go a certain way. A way I needed it to go for the rest of the story to happen. However, given time and space I've come up with much better ideas that avoid death-bed-confessional clichés, create more truth, are more believable and still drive my story in the direction I want. But much more smoothly than in it did in the original. I used to scoff at the phrase - they're my darlings for a reason. And this is my story and surely I know best?? But I know now that it's true - you can never be precious about anything in your novel because then you can't be ruthless enough to cut something that's dragging it down.

But that's not to say my darlings have gone completely. They've been re-homed in a "Scraps" file should a home become available.

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