Friday, December 7, 2012


7th December 2012
The literary admonition to kill your darlings has been ascribed to several authors. I thought it was Auden, others say Faulkner. Here is Stephen King harping on about it: "Kill you darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings."
But whoever its author, it remains a very good rule for any writer to impliment. The "darlings" in question are not just certain flowery phrases by which you aim to impress, but those thoughts, expressions, pictures, that have a personal weight or meaning for you but act as dead weight in your writing.  You're going through an edit of something you have written, and there's an illusion, almost a private one, that gives you a bolt of joy (hence the "darling") and it takes all your strength to highlight the phrase and nix it. You almost have to close your eyes. Sometimes it's whole pages. I have had entire characters that fell into this category - someone I once knew and want to honour, but they're getting in the way of the story. Kill your darlings. It hurts, but kill 'em anyway.
One darling I won't be killing any time soon, because my protagonist Maggie would protest, is her love interest in the eighth century, Fergus MacBridghe (MacBreej, I want to write it out phonetically, so no one mispronounces it, but that's just one of those darlings that needs to get nixed.) This passage is from Chapter Three, when Fergus is first introduced:
"The call of an owl muted the subtler sounds; wings fluttered suddenly to Fergus's left, a good portent, the druidess would say. He had not meant to be away this long, too long since the day he left his daughter in the arms of her grandmother. Already, in his absence, the celebrations for her eighth year had come and gone.  Two years since the plague had taken her mother, and now there was talk among the Britons of another round of the pestilence coming up from the Sassenachs in the south.  If it spread this far north, he would take his daughter to the people who lived away from Dunadd, in the houses on the lochs, until the danger had passed. Illa was all he had left of his wife and he meant to hold onto her.
Fergus leaned forward into the smell of his horse, ran the coarse strands of her mane between his fingers. Horses were like the Druids in a sense, hearing and seeing more than they should. Only a little while now and he would be home--not the home he had shared with his wife, for he had closed that door two years ago after the body had been burned."

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