Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Dead Darlings

One of the bitterest pills for a writer to swallow is when we’re told we have to “Kill our darlings.” That doesn’t necessarily apply to our characters (you’ll kill some of mine over my dead body, thank you), but to words, sentences or even scenes. Especially those scenes we think are the most brilliant or funniest or hottest things we’ve ever written.

There are many reasons why such a gems end up on the scrap heap. The scene might not move the story forward, or it might repeat information, or it may just be completely wrong for the story which is damned hard news to take for someone who birthed that pretty arrangement of sentences.

I have a file for those scenes named “Best Things Ever Deleted.” Some of them were extracted from my manuscript along with great quantities of blood and tears and sometimes with pieces of my fingernails still attached. Eww. Sorry about the image. .

Often it’s my critique partners who wield the hatchet. For chapter two of “Custom Ride,” I wrote the sexiest scene. It was perfect, totally in keeping with the hot summer theme of the anthology I was aiming for and it absolutely showed why Jeff was everything Ryan wanted.

But it didn’t belong in the story.

It was completely out-of-character for Jeff, a man worrying over custody of his daughter, to drop to his knees in a garage lot in the middle of the afternoon.

But I loved that scene. No matter how many of the people whose opinion I value told me that it didn’t belong, I still couldn’t cut it. I couldn’t slice out what felt like the heart of a story already bleeding from the cuts I made to fit it into the submission guidelines.

I tried changing point of view. Someone tweaked it and told me it could go later in the story, but I knew it didn’t fit there. I begged, I whined, I stomped my feet. But they were right. That scene hit the “Best Deleted” file and “Custom Ride” became my first sale.

But through the magic of the internet we can bring our darlings back from the grave, hopefully with more appeal than your average zombie. Like a director’s cut on DVD, we can force share our beloved missing scenes with readers as “value-added” content on our website, blogs and journals. I have to say, it makes it far easier to pull the trigger on a scene, knowing it might someday have an ether afterlife.

With the perspective of time, the missing scene from “Custom Ride” might actually not possess all the attributes I ascribed to it while I was fighting for its life, but I’m glad it found a home. You can read it and other “Bonus Features” such as prequels and sequels on my live journal.


Sarah said...

More KA Mitchell goodness. :) I cannot imagine what it is like, barely coping with 140 characters in Twitter!

Off to read now... you kinda had me at dropping to knees. heh.

Maia Strong said...

I feel ya. Countless times in such situations, I am forced to remind myself of some of the wisest writing related words I've ever heard: "It's just ink." Gets me through lots of tough cuts. They still hurt, but I find it's a balm for the wordy wounds.

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