Sunday, August 23, 2015

Kill Your Darlings: That Paragraph on Page Three

This is another phrase you've heard from time to time, about as often as "Show, don't tell."  You take it to mean Don't spend extra time trying to put in some description or metaphor that will prove to all who read your story that you are, indeed, a writer, and by golly, if they hadn't realized it by now, this would surely convince them.

Whenever you hear the admonition, you feel a tiny trickle of irritation working its way into your response mechanisms because you believe you have to like what you write in order to leave it in.  But you do one of those anger management exercises, take a breath, and keep your fuck you responses to yourself.  

You have had experiences where individuals have insisted on some trope or other, leaving you bewildered about why.  
At least one friendship that began in a high school creative writing class went into the Slough of Despond when a friend used the metaphor "as ink darkens the chalk-white tissue of day," and you, in all seriousness, asked "What the fuck does that mean?" and he replied, "What do you mean, what does it mean?"

In some ways, we're talking about space here.  The writer creates a space with her words, adds dimension to the space with characters, sprinkles in nuance with the things characters say to one another, then provides an opportunity to eavesdrop with narrative and independent discourse or interior monologue.  Now, someone comes along and says in effect, you need a permit to build here, or perhaps add a metaphor here, or even suggest a theme here.

Like most authors, you've had enough materials returned with ample reason to become suspicious of all agent and editor response, more often because you don't know why your work was deemed unacceptable than because you do know.  In fact, no one has ever told you, "Look, I'm not taking your story because of that paragraph on page three."  The only time you hear about paragraph on page three is if the piece is taken, and then the editor says, "Of course you'll be wanting to remove that paragraph on page three."

This is the place where you can say, "But I worked so hard to get that paragraph."  And the editor can say, "But it does nothing for the story," at which comment you understand something about editors you may have not considered before because you weren't really interacting with them, you were trying to lure them into the middle of your story with such decorations as that paragraph on page three.

A professional of some consequence is apparently "after" you, at least to the point of writing outrageous reviews of your books on Amazon.  This is in all probability because you refused to take him on as an editorial client.  Your reason was your belief that he would probably not take most of your notes and that, indeed, there would be a lot of them, each of which he would argue with.  "How can you know that about me?" he asked in an email.  "Because," you replied, "of the things you said when describing your project."

"Can you be more clear?" he wrote.

You spoke of your experience in dealing with authors when you were a salaried editor at a number of publishing houses, when you were an instructor at a prestigious graduate writing program, when you were a workshop leader at a prestigious writers' conference, and even now, as a freelance editorial consultant.  This has led you to a sense of which writers will be the easiest and most difficult to work with.

This led to the absolute determination on your part not to work with this individual, because, among other revealing signs you've had from writers, this kind of argumentative persistence is paramount.  In consequence of which he called you a particular name you'd not heard in nearly ten years, when an acquaintance from your university days telephoned you, challenging you to guess who he was.  

Your reply spoke of your complete lack of patience for such games, which led him to use one of the two words you are at great pains to avoid while in the process of argument.  The word you had in mind was "always," as in, "you always were--"  (The other word you attempt to avoid is never, as in, "you never--")

If memory serves, it had been yet another ten years since someone from those days , in fact, the student body president, said of you that "you always were--"  Three robins do not make a spring, nor do they make you an arrogant bastard, but in many ways, such attitudes converge on the matter of a writer being told to remove something because it was not clear, because it was labored, or because it makes little or no sense.

The point of convergence is where attitudes about appropriateness differ, where one party is attempting to use Oriental furniture to decorate a room with a High Baroque theme, or where someone has moved an orotund chiffonier into a room otherwise notable for its Zen-like composure and simplicity.

At one time in your learning curve, your entire darling was being ignored if not killed.  Now, only some of the darling is being killed instead of being ignored.




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