On Writing

No Need to Kill Darlings*

 

*They’ll find their own way out the door if you let them.

 

As any new novelist might, I looked to successful novelists for advice on how to tell a story. I read stern guidance to “Kill your darlings” and nodded my head. Okay, I have to kill my darlings. I’ll get right to it.

I went back to my manuscript and searched for darlings. It was a thrilling chase. Up and down spiral staircases, deep into dense forest, we flew through passages thick and thin, images concrete and wispy.

The darlings proved valiant, agile, and crafty. There was only one darling slow enough for me to catch.

The heavyset character shrugged when I grabbed onto the back of her shirt, dug in my heels and told her that I would never let her get away. Sighing, she turned around and asked me to let go of her since she was done running.

A moment later, she started talking.  She knew that she was in the wrong story, but liked being included in the stellar cast of characters. Panting hard, she begged for a small role, just a tiny one so that she got to be part of a sure thing.

We passed a bottle of water between us. When we’d finally caught our breath, we talked.

She loved the story. The characters were like family to her – were, in fact her family.

Truth be told, however, she felt like her role in the story wasn’t big enough. Her appearances seemed to serve only as a way to highlight how sane, reasonable, and creative all the other characters were. She could bring so much more depth and richness to the story, never mind some serous gravitas.  However, this was her first named role in a story, so she was doing the best that she could do with a meager part.

Could I do better for her?

Damn straight, I could.  What’s more, I would.  Yes, I’ll do it, I told her.

Promise in hand, she hugged me close. Close up, I recognized how warm she was, how good it felt to be held by her. She even smelled good – bargain perfume, but still light and sweet with an underlay of mystery.

She sashayed out the door with a wave over her shoulder. Make sure that you don’t forget about me, she called. Send the others my way.

Others? There were others?

While we’d been sitting on the back stoop of the ranch-style house, other characters had shown up. There was even a battered 1968 Ford Mustang convertible rumbling quietly to the side of some tangles of subplot. A dog skulked around the back of the crowd.

The protagonist of my novel stepped forward. I don’t need all this, she told me. Her sharp-faced rival barked that since this was my first novel I would be better off losing some of the fascinating subplots, too.

The protagonist shot her a look. My story, my rules, she said and the rival backed away.

Keep it simple, she said. Don’t worry about killing darlings. They don’t want to be here. No one wants to be in a story that’s not perfect for them. Tell the story as best you can do.  Trust me, any characters or extraneous subplots will find their own way out the door if you let them.

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