Editing 2 – Kill Your Darlings!

It’s another old truth of editing – you have to be prepared to kill your darlings.

What are they? Merely those gorgeous passages of writing you dripped a part of your soul into, the ones with the dazzling juxtaposition, the heartrending phrase, the scenes that make you weep aloud or laugh at your sheer bravado…

And they have to go. They are asides that distract from the narrative thrust. They show a part of the character you don’t wish to reveal then, if at all. They are descriptions that only enchant but don’t pass the tests I set down in my previous post – they don’t reveal character nor advance the action. They are, howsoever beautiful, dead wood.

It is a hellish business, getting rid of them though. You suspect that it is some of your finest writing. You justify their existence in extravagant terms. You cite Shakespeare: of course I need wild humour in this tragedy, as counterpoint, as bathos. (one of the few terms I remember from English class at school, meaning ‘deliberative anti climax’).

You may even be right… for a time. Sometimes darlings can survive at least this round, like some twisted literary version of American Idol. But not by the copy edit, I suspect. Darlings dazzle and deceive. But they rarely can be allowed to live.

I have an example. I may even post it one day (Heh! That’s how your favourites can live again! As off cuts in a Post!)

T’was in Vlad. In the beginning I was setting up a very dark, gothic-tinged framing device. All Transylvanian castles and beech forest under snow. In a freezing room one of the inquisitors, a Cardinal was being… entertained by a maid. The Count bursts in to argue with him and the Churchman has to hide the girl by thrusting her deeper under the covers. She takes this as a command to further action and sets to, while the men converse. The Cardinal then punctuates his discourse with yelps and cries of , ‘Ah, ha ha!’ ‘You find this amusing?’ asks the Count.

It made me laugh then. It still does now. I had to murder it and I was right. The scene amused but it delayed the action. Cutting it, I also cut 20 more pages of ‘fill’. I moved fast to the dungeon where the judges asked the question of the novel, ‘Who was this Dracula?’

Kill them. Kill them all. Mourn them a little… and move on fast.

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