Kill your darlings. It’s one of the pieces of writing advice you hear all the time. But until recently, it never really meant anything to me. I had no problem cutting scenes from a story, or even cutting a whole character. Obviously I was sooo advanced of a writer that I didn’t need the old chestnut of advice.
Nope. Not at all. I just didn’t understand what my darlings were.
I recently wrote a story that I thought had a great first couple of paragraphs. The hook was immediate, the language strong, the pacing great. And most importantly, it had a great voice. That’s very important to me. Every writer (I think) has something that’s in their wheelhouse. One writer friend of mine makes scenery come to life. Another has dialogue so real that you think you’re eavesdropping. I like to think that voice is one of my strengths. And even if it isn’t, it’s something that I always focus on. I’m willing to change a lot of things to make a story work, but messing with the voice? That isn’t really one of them.
But then I wrote the rest of the story and…those first couple of paragraphs no longer really made sense. I tweaked them this way and that, but they still seemed to be in direct contrast with the plot and theme of the story I had written (which, of course, was completely different than the one I thought I was writing).
I sent the story off to an amazing beta reader (the brilliant M. Glyde) and he agreed. My hooks and the questions they raised were great, but they didn’t seem to be answered in the story. And there’s nothing worse than promising your reader that you’re going to zig and then having the rest of the story be a zag. I needed to rework the beginning.
At first, I resisted, making my case to kitty-editor Crumbsnatcher as she reclined on the sofa. But this turn of phrase is so precious! Don’t you see the way this opening line draws people in? This is the part that they’ll be referencing on Twitter when I go to pick up my Nebula!
Then I realized…all of the reasons that I didn’t want to make the changes were about me. How good I thought I sounded, how clever I thought I was being. My darling wasn’t a character or a plot twist…it was in my wordplay, and, more than that, how invested I was in seeming like a brilliant writer because of that wordplay. But writing isn’t supposed to be about the writer. It’s supposed to be about the reader.
So I’ve started killing. My precious adjectives. My great expressions. My clever phrasings. And as they each go into the woodchipper, I’m getting a little closer to the heart of the story and why it should matter to a reader. And that’s worth killing for.