Saturday, 23 July 2016

Killing Off Your Darlings

I have been quoted the phrase, 'You must kill off your darlings' over and over since I began writing, along with, ‘Put your heroine into a hole and throw rocks at her’ to create as much conflict as possible to keep your readers turning pages. Apparently almost every major 20th century author has been cited at one time or another as using this phrase or a variation of it. Stephen King put it well: “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

I appear to have interpreted the 'kill' one literally, but as I am writing cosy mysteries surely that’s forgivable? Someone has to be murdered in a mystery and making it two victims or more in extreme cases, gives the pace an often well needed boost.

A ‘darling’ isn’t necessarily your hero or heroine and they don’t have to die gurgling pool of blood on your page. In cosies that isn’t supposed to happen anyway as the actual murder takes place off stage and to a relatively unimportant character in whom the reader has invested no emotion at all. It’s the ‘whodunnit’ part which keeps them reading.

The phrase also means you have to get rid of your most precious and self-indulgent passages for the greater good of your literary work. So not a knife in the back then or a dose of arsenic in the tea – it’s a wordy thing!

The more I write, the more I learn not to fall in love with my witty turn of phrase such as it is. If what I have written doesn’t contribute to the story, clarify or progress the plot and solve the crime – it goes. Words serve a purpose like everything else. Use them sparingly.

As for the advice – my ‘darlings’ do need killing off, literally - and in order to do so my internet search history is full of knives, switchblades, arsenic, oleander flowers, how to electrocute someone without leaving marks…etc etc. Now I’m expecting a call from the serious crimes squad – maybe they have some new ideas…

Oooh look, in 1905 switchblades and stilettoes weren’t illegal - yay