Monday, February 20, 2012

Killing Darlings

Sometimes, I think being stuck at my day job, unable to write, but thinking about writing, might be the best thing for revision. It has lead me to a solution I had been struggling with, and I believe I have come to the point where I slay my first darling. Her name is Celeste.
"Kill your Darlings" is a writing term (though, I heard if first during a screenwriting class) that describes eliminating or cutting something from a work that the writer is close to for the improvement of the work. There's a debate by who actually coined the term, but a couple of famous people have been quoted about it.
I generally don't have a problem with this removal of an element that I'm close to. I think it's the filmmaker in me (where I'm on set and there's not more time or budget left and it's only the essentials we film). So, when looking at my draft after the first read through, I knew I needed to get rid of my beloved Celeste. I just couldn't figure out how.
I never thought that I had a problem killing my darlings. I always found it easy to drop various elements of my story, even if I was emotionally attached to them. That is, if there was a reason for it. Yet, Celeste, well, she snagged me.
Celeste was one of the characters I wrote the story for. She's the herione (though is she really?) from the Grimm Tale "Sweetheart Roland." That tale has resounded with me since the Third Grade because I always thought that the herione was the stupidest girl on the planet. One of subplots I wanted to include in my Flamingo Princess was a reworking of the end of "Sweetheart Roland." One in which the herione is not totally screwed over and calls out Roland on in his infidelity. So I wrote it; it was a cruitial plot point of the novel.
After my first read through, I realized that Celeste fell to the wayside for a good two thirds of the book, only appearing in the beginning and for her big scene. Her character was a bit boring and whiney, which made her climax seem unnatural. Many of her earlier scenes felt forced - I was pushing her there so she could have her big scene. I mean, really, did she have to go to the Cinderella ball? No! I just needed some reason to keep her around... But something, something crutial happens during her big scene, making cutting her completely quite hard. If I deleted her big scene, well, then the charcters wouldn't reach the end.
If that's the case, then is this a darling I really should kill? The answer: yes.
As I work over my beginning, filling in the holes, I kept trying to figure out how to incorporate Celeste more. If I made the character more prevalent, then I don't have to cut her! Yeah, right.
Then I realized how to solve my problem. With a few tweaks, Celeste's big scene could become another character's big scene - someone who was left unresloved in the book anyway. Someone who kept stealing the scene from Celeste, filling her void anyway. There could be only one. Celeste then vanishes from the pages of my book like a wisp of smoke and none would be the wiser.
And I feel - relieved. I think Celeste was weighing me down. She didn't fit into this story, and someday, I'll revisit her and give her a story of her own. Plus, it solves another plot problem I'd been having.
So why did it take me so long to kill her? I think it was because a part of me didn't want to lose her. Her subplot is something I've wanted to explore since I was in third grade. She was a major inspiration for writing the book. I think a part of me didn't want to figure out how to shift things and eliminate her because if she was so important to me, she had to be that important to the story. Instead of trying to figure out how to work her back in, I should have been trying to figure out how to work her out completely.
We need to trust our guts. If our instinct is whispering "kill that darling" we need to listen. That's not always so easy because often we can rationalize to ourself why we shouldn't.
I think to make up for it, I'll leave Celeste in my special thanks when I get the book published.

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