Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Oh My Darling

by Elizabeth

Kill your darlings.

Writers are very familiar with this advice, something that sounds stark and ugly to the ear and is indeed one of the harder things for a writer to do. I've heard some people go so far as to interpret it to mean, if you really really really love a piece of writing, you should stamp it out of your work. Me? I don't believe being in love with a piece of prose means it has to hit the trash, but I do know that sometimes some of the best words we write just don't belong.

I'm dealing with this with my current project. I've got plot in place, story, voice, no sagging middle (I hope!), all the elements coming together nicely, a good length--and some chapters that just no longer belong. Including some stuff that is wonderfully written, funny or heartbreaking or simply elegant, and yet no longer has a good enough reason to make the next draft. Darlings.

So I'm killing them, and as I do, I move a copy to a file I keep with that simple name: Darlings. It helps me to know that the work I did isn't gone forever, it's just elsewhere, even if it's never read by anyone but me.

As I pondered whether or not a particularly fun and fun-to-write group of chapters will survive (they probably won't), it occurred to me to publish an old darling here. This is from a manuscript I finished about five years ago:
Ruth was one of the old ladies at the gym.  She came in six days a week, never on a Sunday, and walked two slow miles on the treadmill, eyes front, a ready smile for everyone who passed by, even Denise, though of course Ruth had no children to bring her.  Once in a while she slipped into the back of a strength class, clutching the lightest hand weights available, two pounders swathed in lavender vinyl.  She didn’t actually keep up with the rest of the class, but she never quit, never left early, and indeed gamely lifted and lowered to the end.  One time, and one time only, she even came to kickboxing.  It was an unusually full class; Reggie had them three and four to a bag.  She put Ruth on the bag with a woman she knew, Goldie, and another first-timer, a beautiful heavy-set woman in her forties who was there on a one-week trial membership.  Ruth was slow, of course—she was seventy-seven on her last birthday, after all—but, as with the strength classes, she stayed until the end, kept moving, and never gave up.

She had gone to the library this afternoon with her son and her grandchildren.  The plan was to get a movie to watch later that night, the three of them cuddled together on the couch for the night while Mike and Amy went out to dinner with friends, high heels and sport coat, a fancy night, good restaurant.  They found a movie, Roman Holiday.  “You’ll love it!” she promised, knowing eleven year old Camille truly would, and hoping she wasn’t lying to thirteen year old Michael.  Then, while the others wandered off to find some books, Ruth settled into a chair to relax for a bit, but quickly fell asleep instead, head back, mouth open, the inspiration for silent smiles in the hush of the library.  It was only when Mike stepped gently on her foot about fifteen minutes later that anyone realized she had finally failed to finished something.  The movie was resting on her lap, not yet checked out.  And Ruth had quietly died.

What about your darlings? Feel free to post them in the comments section, or better still, email them to me at and we'll publish them on a regular post in the near future. It's not the same as appearing between a couple of hard covers, true, but it's more than hiding in a file unseen by anyone but the writer.

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