Kill Your Darlings

The classic advice to writers, attributed to many sources, is “You must be willing to kill your darlings”.

Today, I had to do so in a big way.

There’s a story I’ve been chipping away at for months.  Progress was slow, but that happens when you have several different projects going at once.  I thought it was going well; it was an urban fantasy set at my beloved Coney Island, the central conceit (which I won’t discuss here) was interesting, and I think I managed to actually capture the true spirit of the place in my descriptions once or twice.

But for all the pretty scenery, I was having trouble writing the scenes themselves.  Last night, I finally figured out why: they weren’t going anywhere.  How could they?  I’d been fixated on the clever idea, and never realized that the characters had never grown beyond templates, and there was nothing for them to do in any case.  They were essentially there to bear witness to one set piece after another.  It was like I was a Dungeon Master, so caught up in the creation of my fantastic world and the awesomeness of my NPC’s that I wasn’t letting the players play.  In a comment to this post, I talk about the moment that stories take off on their own, and characters behave in ways that are unexpected.  This story, and these characters, would never do that.

Time to kill my darling.

If there’s anything I hate, it’s lost time.  We all only have so much, after all.  And that was several months wasted, and a promising idea that would need to be completely reworked if it can be salvaged at all.  But wasting more time when there are other stories to be told would be even worse.

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to put up three stories for readers of this blog to critique.  As you can guess, the first chapter of this story was to be the third and last.  That’s cancelled now, as you can probably also guess.  I already know what I need to know about this one, a lesson that I will probably have to re-learn again and again throughout my career.

Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.


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