Sunday, February 5, 2017


The Conventional Wisdom associated with storytelling includes a directive that, if followed, turns you into a murderer.

When you first heard that meme--"Kill your darlings."--you paid it little heed. For one thing, you wished to be ornate, even bordering into the rococo. You not only didn't mind showing off, you believed that doing so helped expand your narrative visions and, as a result, the qualities best suited to forging your own voice.

By the time you heard it again, you felt it was for individuals who were still caught up with mastery of the tools with which story is told. You were well aware of your own ineptness with such matters as plot, pacing, transitions, and awareness of the nuances of point of view. But no matter; wasn't writing the equivalent of on-the-job training?

Along with an arrogant disregard for such concepts as free independent discourse and the ubiquitous show--don't tell, you regarded Kill your darlings as yet another series of buzzwords to avoid. In consequence, you set about with reckless tantivy to bring your inner mechanisms, diction, and revelations to the page.

But then, after having been client of a long session of literary and television agents, including your rebellious UCLA classmate, Clancy Sigal, you became the client of your current--and presumably ultimate--literary agent. On the basis of a manuscript you'd sent her, she replied the next day with an emphatic offer to represent you.

In celebration of her enthusiastic response, you took yourself to a bookstore presentation she was making, thinking to invite her for coffee later. Early in her presentation, she held up a large, two-foot by three-foot poster on which was lettered Kill Your Darlings.

Okay, here's a list of some of the things darlings are conventionally--because this is about conventional wisdom, right?--thought to be:

1. A description of a Maslovian, peak experience
2. Any onomatopoetic sentence
3. A digressive description
4. Sentences over twenty words in length.
5. Independent clauses
6. A complex simile or metaphor
7. references to actual poetry
8. Writing meant to connote your:
c--poetic aptitude
e--sentences and tropes that stand out from your otherwise bland prose

Darlings, by their very nature, are things to be considered, dealt with, accommodated into one's greater sense of techniques necessary to tell a story or embark on a personal essay. The wisdom behind the common wisdom that would have you go through a manuscript to seek out, then destroy them becomes questionable when said wisdom requires of you that you remove some of the many things you write for.

Writing is difficult enough without having no license to like your work. Since you do not particularly excel at anything you do, you've amassed a considerable catalogue of attempts at such things as building model airplanes, designing gliders, playing baseball, understanding the intents of authors who've written stories that cause you reflexive shivers and palpitations. 

You'd long given up doing anything truly well except for the three things that found you rather than you seeking them out, some Mt. Everest of which you'd become the Sir Edmund. To hear your agent tell it, you will be damned if you allow your darlings to remain within your text. But each time you sit somewhere to compose, you recall the times when you approached a chicken coop that turned cold silent as you approached until, as you drew nearer, began to erupt in tiny burbles of clucks and peeps. You could almost hear in your inner ear the elders, warning the younger ones to shhh, to keep quiet, lest the fox circling outside knew you were there.

Damned if you do, but even more painfully damned if you don't.

Be always alert to excesses. Keep your details relevant to the work at hand. Don't undertake a digression so severe that it causes the reader to wonder, What am I doing here?

But let your darlings live.

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