Sharpening My Darling Ax
“Murder Your Darlings.”
I’ve seen this quote attributed to Eliot, Fitzgerald, and a host of other writers but most often to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who (supposedly) wrote:
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings.”
The idea being, oftentimes that brilliant little metaphor or clever bit of dialogue that you love so dearly – it just needs to go, to make the story work. It’s a darling in need of an ax.
This is the hardest part of revision, for me. I’m currently trying to rework Chapter 5 of my manuscript. The motivations of the characters needed to change. When I wrote that part of the book, I was still getting a feel for my characters. Now that I’m up to chapter 20 or so, they are telling me that Chapter 5 has got to be significantly revised. I’m okay with that, in principle. The problem is that the old Chapter 5 is littered with darlings. Lines I love that just don’t work anymore with the scene’s new slant. I have to be ruthless and murder them, I know. But it’s hard. Violence just isn’t in my nature.
Do you have this problem? I feel like I need a mourning rite to help me let go of my darlings. Perhaps I should write them on scraps of paper and burn them. Or feed them to my dog. What can you suggest?