Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Murder and Mayhem

Today, I must kill my darlings.

For you non-writers, try this analogy: Imagine you have your toddler all dolled up for a professional photographer. This is the picture going out on the Christmas card or destined for the living room wall or whatever. We're talking permanent family history here, the picture by which all of your snarky cousins and former roommates will judge the fitness of your DNA and it's ability to replicate cuteness. It's a big deal. You spend vast amounts of time pondering over and then shopping for the perfect baby outfit, the one that says, "I am darling, clearly the product of good-looking, intelligent, and successful parents." The day of your picture session comes and you bathe that child, brush his or her curls, and bundle said toddler off to the photographer. And with a ruthless eye, the photographer asssesses said child and says, "Good bones, but let's fix some things." Soon your child's hair is slightly mussed and parted differently, the cute little shoes are gone, coordinating socks soon to follow. The photographer stands back, gives a head shake, and says, "Better. We're not there yet." And before you know it, baby is sitting in his (or her) diaper in a white cotton onesie and the photographer is finally satisfied. And although you lament the hours spent planning, shopping and grooming the little tot for this Kodak moment, you must admit....he (or she) is cuter this way.

This is the process in writing Stephen King refers to when he says to "Kill your darlings." Except I'm not good at analogies.

Before going on vacation, I sent my completed manuscript to five of my best editing friends/acquaintances. All of them have extensive experience in the field in one form or another and all of them read in the genre I'm writing. I knew my manuscript was the best I could make it, but I knew it wasn't quite good enough. Especially in the first three chapters where I was just getting acquainted with my characters. And now the feedback has come in, and it is overwhelmingly positive: really funny, dialogue is clever without being cheesy, It's very touching without being schmaltzy, It's very interesting to watch Jessie's progression, I pretty much read it straight through which is a good sign, and ha ha ha ha ha!....All comments from these readers, lifted directly from their emails, plus lots of nice other stuff.

But everyone agrees with my own assessment: first chapters need a little work, but I can't tell you exactly what's wrong. Good luck with that....

And so I must kill my darlings, King's description of when a writer must go in and fearlessly pull out all her favorite bits, stripping it down and reworking it until it all fits properly. I'm now having to rethink and therefore rewrite (which is killing me), the entire first three chapters to see if changing key elements will make the rest of the story stronger. It doesn't matter if the story starts popping in chapter 5 if no one gets there. This is painful, and I've only just begun kinda sorta thinking about what I maybe might possibly change.

But it's time to tackle it so I'm going to get dressed and wade in.

I wonder what one wears to a butchery....

And no, I did not make up that word.

7 comments:

Kimberly said...

Congrats on all the positive feedback! I'm in the midst of a similar process and am having to hack out some of my favourite bits. It's so hard, but the end result is worth it.

I hope.

Nancy said...

you put the HER in HERO - good writing luck - burn baby burn!
Allen IV is checking in to BYU as I speak. He is very excited.

tvchwxk - most of of what we view on the tube...

Heather of the EO said...

ugh, hard work. But congrats on positive feedback! That must be a relieving good feeling. I'm sure you'll bring just what you need to the butchery and make a killing!

Don said...

Yeah, this is a tough gig. I eventually just had to chop the first few chapters and cut straight to where the action starts.

I really liked those first few chapters, too.

charrette said...

Hahaha! I feel your pain. My husband is a filmmaker, and he recently finished a screenplay (a truly clever romantic comedy). But it's too long. They need to cut 20 pages. And I can't even imagine how painful it must be for him. Becuase I'm lamenting it like crazy: "NOooo! Not the Coffee shop scene!" and other nonsense. My darling's darlings have somehow become my darlings too. (Well, I guess if they ARE his babies, who better to love them than ME?!) Okay, I'm rambling. Sorry.

As for the butchery (love that) I suggest dressing in one's bathrobe. Possibly for days on end. :)

Congrats on all the great feedback. This last step (while painful) will be SOooo worth it! Good luck!

Alison Wonderland said...

I hate that, it's the worst. In fact i can't do it outright. I have to move my darlings to another document but when I'm done on the computer I don't save it. It feels more humane that way.

tricki_nicki said...

Oh, this just sounds painful! I can't even imagine the guts it must take to write a novel and then have other people critique it! It sounds like you're doing really great...hang in there!