Friday, April 27, 2012

The Big, Red X!

Have you ever heard the phrase, "kill your darlings?" It's a dirty, no good, rotten phrase, and unfortunately, it also happens to be the right advice about eighty percent of the time. I hate it when that happens.

Sadly, if you are editing along in your manuscript and there is something that you find particularly clever, your best bet (usually) is to take that red pen and put a big ol' nasty red X across it. Does the very idea of cutting that part, that lovely sentence or delicious description make you balk? Do you want to dig your heels in and refuse? Well, the more strongly you resist the idea, most likely, the more you need to kill it...  x. X. X!

Ridiculous, isn't it?

Okay, let's take a step back. Breathe, relax. Maybe this isn't ALWAYS the case. I mean, honestly, it's okay to be proud of your writing and it's important to be able to recognize the strong bits. So, x-ing out anything you like willy-nilly is probably not the answer either. But there is more than a little chunk of truth to the darling killing advice, and I think the answer to the dilemma lies in the world "darlings."

You see there is a big difference between recognizing a strong passage or unique twist of words, in noting that you've hit a strong stretch or done something right and feeling almost obsessively, possessively like it MUST REMAIN IN THE BOOK. I've seen darlings in action, mostly in crit groups, and I have to say, the part that seems so absolutely vital, that you just can't even imagine the book existing without, is usually a real weak spot.

Because that much emotion will almost always block us from seeing clearly, and if we honestly feel like the book will falter without something, some one thing, then maybe the book needs to be worked on, but that single passage, or sentence or clever name will not make or break it. What it will do is cloud our judgement. It might even lead us to believe it has singlehandedly solved a bigger problem that it is only hiding, like a thin bandage.
You put a lovely sticker over a big scratch and the scratch will not go away. Better to remove the sticker, (you can always save it aside somewhere) fix the scratch and then see if you really need that shiny cover after all.

So next time you see a flash of delightful brilliance, don't rush in with that big red X, but possibly take a good hard look and consider if you should. Just in case. ;)

Happy X-ing.


Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

I'm thinking that maybe it's wise to copy and paste them into the margin rather than outright murder them. Although, yes, some of them need to be bludgeoned with wet noodles, rolling pins and steam engines.

Sue H said...

I NEVER throw out anything I feel is good, but maybe just not in the 'right' place. I have a file on my PC in which I store these gems - more than once, when I've casually dipped in there, I've been inspired to create something new...!

No word you sweated on is ever irremediable! ;-)

SueH I refuse to go quietly!
Twitter - @Librarymaid

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