Friday, April 29, 2011

Of Dust Bunnies and Darlings

The dust bunnies have been multiplying again. At this point, I’m not sure whether I should kill them all or become a rancher and raise them professionally.

My youngest thinks dust bunnies are real rabbits. He once went looking for them and was disappointed when he only found dust balls. But even so, he was convinced the dust bunnies came to life at night and hopped around the house while we slept.

They do. How else do they get from one room to another?

Anyway, I went about killing the little darlings, Hoovering them up without the slightest bit of guilt, or even a second thought.

Which really brings me to the topic of my blog post today: killing your darlings. Not the fuzzy, dust-ball sort. The darlings I’m talking about are those of your own making, those favorite bits of writing that might have had a place in your story at one time, but no longer belong there.

The term, “murder your darlings” was made famous by Stephen King in his book , On Writing, but he wasn’t the first to use it. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said it first. You may love something you’ve written, but if it doesn’t work, toss it. Murder it. To leave it is self-indulgent.

Which brings me back to my blood-thirsty vacuuming. The drone of the vacuum was perfect for my introspective thinking that day. No one interrupts me when I’m vacuuming and with the noise it makes I can’t hear a darn thing other than my own thoughts. Perfect!

What I was thinking was that I needed to murder a scene I was really attached to. I wanted that scene. I didn’t want to let it go. It was a scene that had flowed from me effortlessly. It was just there when I needed it.

Only I don’t need it. Not any more. So I vacuumed up dust bunnies and mourned my darling. It took me more than just one murderous rampage against dust bunnies to realize my scene had to go. The thought had lurked in the deepest recesses of my mind for a long time. The struggle was mighty. I wanted to make the scene work, but in the end, I knew there just wasn’t a way to keep it.

Stephen King encourages writers to use anything that improves the quality of their writing, but doesn’t get in the way of the story. My scene was getting in the way of my story. My attachment to it lead me to change the timeline of the plot. (Gasp!) How nutty is that — keeping a scene and changing the novel around it?

The integrity of my story was nearly derailed by my own self-indulgent whims. I’m sorry to see the scene cut, but I’m so much more confident now as I go forward with the story. The timeline works, the plot sticks together, the whole thing is solid again.

This is a cautionary tale. I hope you never have to hunt down and kill one of your darlings. But if you do, hold a quick memorial service for it and let it go. You’ll find that like dust bunnies multiplying under the furniture, new scenes will quickly fill the void where your darling once dwelled and your story will be better for it.


  1. Yes...someday soon I'm going to have to really weigh up which scenes I need and which I don't. Because my wordcount keeps blowing out during revisions, damn it! :P

  2. Oh, Susan, I feel your pain!

    My manuscript is literally dripping with blood at the moment, in the midst of editing and revising. Sob! And I, too, have one scene that I just want to use so bad yet it doesn't quite fit. It's too hard for me to completely delete it, so I've compromised by slicing it out and saving it to an "out takes" file instead. It's still exists, but it doesn't jam up my story any more. And as I edit, I keep hoping I'll find a space to slot it back in ... sigh

  3. Wait, changing the plot/timeline to fit a scene is bad?????

    I feel your pain. It's hard to cut ANY scene because of the time and thought put into it but one of the good ones...sigh. Though really I'm excited for you, anything to help you finish your book and get it published faster.

  4. I love the morbid sense of having to kill of my precious little darlings. Yes, it sometimes can be tough to want to let go but sometimes it just feels so right.

  5. At this point, I am a bonafide serial killer. :P

    Piles of darlings litter my floor. I have to kick them out of the way to clear a path to my desk. (g) The thing about killing them is that it hurts less after a while. Less, but still painful. :(

  6. Argh! I've chopped more with this book than I ever have before. Hopefully it means the story's getting stronger and tighter.

  7. I'm doing right, left, up and down now that I know Rosemary is Laura Grace's best friend. All her most b*tchy ways have to go. Although she can be prickly still. ; )

    Cross your fingers--I'm only three followers away from 200 and then I'll post my Celebration Blogfest complete with three random winners of prizes.