• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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You’re Just Too Good To Be True

You know the great Faulkner dictum: In writing, you must kill all your darlings. Is it true? Are the pieces you love the most and are most recalcitrant about giving up the very pieces you must kill? Does your desire to hold on to them indicate a blind spot on your part? Something precious or too personal or just bad? Does loving it so much point to a lack of objectivity?  Are your darlings the best or worst of your work. Is killing the darlings a good rule of thumb or yet another fucked up twisted mind game known as writing? I spent last week killing two darlings from my screenplay. And three monologues that I loved way too much. (Yes, it’s true, I love nothing more than writing dialogue for old Jewish men taking  a shvitz.)  I have to confess, stripping out those characters and sub-plot opened up the whole fucking thing.

Two part question: do you believe you have to kill your darlings & tell us about a darling you killed.

30 Responses

  1. “. . . or yet another fucked up twisted mind game known as writing?”

    Yeah, THAT.

  2. Ah. Well. Not all darlings must be killed, but a great majority of them need to bow out of the room as though leaving a Queen. This is a second, third or subsequent draft call–because the darlings, like first boyfriends, are the ones you practice on. Those boys you never quite get over until you see them on Facebook a zillion years later in their wife-beaters wielding a can of Bud.

    I wrote a book with two narrators that appeared in alternating chapters. I had to kill the one I liked best. Half the book–gone. She was scaffolding. A cypher. She spoke my mind, but didn’t illuminate the book in a way that served that bitch, plot. She bowed out, but not gracefully, and sometimes at night, I can still hear her scream.

  3. You must be constantly suspicious of your darlings. They look so pretty and pure in the night, but they are thieving whores. They are rifling your wallet and telling you lies. Take them to breakfast when the sun is up and give them a good, close look. Dump their purses out on the table and dare them to complain. Be the Stasi of your darlings. They are guilty until proven innocent. Question them closely. Demand corroboration of their stories. If they will not cooperate, torture them until they do, and if they don’t, kill them without regret.

    I could not tell you all the darlings I have killed. If they were worth being remembered, they would not be dead. But they did not die in vain. Dismembered, they were buried in my garden, where they have fertilized a crop growing more beautiful and bountiful as the years go by.

  4. It seems beyond silly to kill ALL of anything. Like dumping your true friends because you don’t want to become too trusting. Your darlings are the heart of what you write. Better to dump the rest, and create more darlings.
    The darlings I “kill” are what I write first, and actually turn out to be character notes. But they’re not really dead, they still live all through the story in different forms.

  5. I don’t believe you have to kill your darlings. That just sounds good. I killed a darling once in a short story, thought it was better without it. But then I got an email from someone who had seen the story on my website and said that he didn’t understand something. I asked him if the cut “darling” helped to make more sense to him and he said, yes, definitely, so I put it back. The story is now published with the darling intact.

  6. This always struck me as Protestant bullshit. What needs killing are, first, overused phrases that are empty of sinew and meaning (nobody actually has a shock of fucking hair, for instance, and even if someone did you should not tousle it — kill that shit), and, second, sentimentality and wish fulfillment. Kill all chuckling smiling sighing and shrugging. No one does that shit in life as often as it shows up in fiction. Kill names like Cody. If I see a Tyler or a Cody or a Caitlin or some other cutesy suburban Caucasian name I stop reading. Give me a Helen. I’ll read about a Helen.

  7. I think the trick is to be WILLING to kill your darlings.

  8. For me, the darlings (like VP said above) are the character traits and actions that make you say “are you kidding? who the hell really does that…?” or the silly names. When I look to kill something, it’s not so much about taking out a character as it is taking care of weak, cliched, overwritten crap. The kind of writing that reveals a writer is trying too hard must be killed. I saw on another blog several months ago a bit of writing that was used as an example of overwriting. Something like, “His life was laid out before him, all the sacrifices he’d made for her were revealed like tattered remnants as she gazed at him with love.” GAG. Put book back down on table. Walk away. Fast.

    Side note – to those on this blog who sent me such kind thoughts on the loss of my little faithful Bella, I just wanted you to know it meant a lot. It’s going to hurt for a long time, but I have found it easier to know there are so many who can relate and your thoughtful words were appreciated. Thank you.

  9. Wrote a scene Saturday that brings back a secondary character, thus tying up her slightly loose end and bringing justification to my MC’s decisions then and now.

    Problem is, I temporarily forgot that this secondary character in in Vegas and my MC is in Chicago. No way the secondary will go to Chicago without Deus Ex intervention and my MC can’t go back to Vegas, ’cause her bridges are still on fire.

    So I cut it—I didn’t even put it in my Spare Parts folder.

    I’m still at the rage stage of grief over it, but acceptance is coming.

  10. Because my darlings are so perfectly written, intellectually profound and memorable, I can’t remember them. I am an essayist…if they are good I just write something else around them. But, wanting to share how great a writer I am this morning, I figured I’d check and see if I saved any under the title ‘darlings’ just in case there were some I liked soooo much I decided to save them. In my documents there it was, “darlings”, ah ha I had saved some.

    After over twenty-five years of writing two novels, thirty short stories, and enough essays about the wonder of how smart I consider myself, (all the time realizing how dumb I really am) and after almost one hundred published-bylines (redundant but it’s Monday dammit), plus a current weekly column, I had saved …one. I thought, holy-shit, it must be so good, so inspiring, so unbelievably perfect I’m going to get to rediscover, and share with all of you, on this crappy rainy morning, just how awesome a writer I really am. (Humble too.) This is what I saved, I have not changed a word.

    “I was the kind of mother who set aside daily household responsibilities to spend time with my kids. Some people call that quality-time, I called it avoiding chores. Now, with only two of us, plus Harley the shed-machine, everything is in its place, most of the time.”

    So… while my daughters were young the house was a mess and now my empty nest is carpeted in dog hair. Yup, my ‘darling’ pretty much sums up my life; the other one cooks and fills the dishwasher when he’s not mowing the lawn.

  11. I love my Darlings. My Darlings get me going. I would never kill them. I kill a lot of other stuff though, things like useless sub-plots and crappy story lines; characters that start out with Attitude then fizzle. Things like Vince said up above.

    If my Darlings ever pose a problem by morphing into someone boring or dull or annoyingly weak, I shelve the project and start fresh. Once a problem, always a problem, and when writing fiction I just don’t have the energy to wrestle with petulant children.

  12. Sometimes you have to kill your darlings. Other times you have to deserve them.

  13. I don’t remember any right off the top of my head…and I think that kind of answers the whole thing.

  14. I don’t know. I’m just trying to get some stuff on paper . . . uh, screen.

  15. Do the darlings get killed or suspended animation? I have a folder where I place my darlings, perhaps for use later. I’ve realized that many things important to me don’t move the story forward or belong with a different segment of my life.

    I’m going to share a darling I killed: I dropped this because it didn’t move the story of incest forward, but I still laugh at this scene. My mom had an eighth grade education, her orange juice was vodka and orange juice, my father was molesting me from the age of seven. In fifth-grade health class all the girls were shown the menstruation movie and the teacher handed out a booklet about menstruation. I brought it home and showed my mom:

    When I get home I hand Mommy the booklet. She thumbs through the pages and says, “What’s this? Shirley, look at this.”

    I walk over to her side of the table and take a peek. On the page is a labeled diagram of a woman’s body.

    “How can they mark this the public area? Don’t they know it’s private? Private! You’d better not call this the public area! No wonder the world’s such a mess. Teaching kids….public area.”

    I bite the inside of my mouth to keep from laughing. “Mommy, that’s the pubic area, not public.”

    “It looks like public to me, you’d better never call it that. Those dirty bastards. Public area!” She takes another sip of orange juice.

    “Okay, I’ll never call it the public area.” I roll my eyes.

  16. As an avid eavesdropper, curbside trash-day explorer and determined flea market shopper, I have a difficult time throwing anything away let alone killing it off. I prefer to engage in recycling: a scene, a conversation, a door (and recently a pound of vintage buttons) may not be right for one WIP but may certainly fit elsewhere. That said, a recent decision to truly kill off a character left me depressed for days. I think I scared myself, too, with the ease in which I was able to script a murder.

  17. I agree with Vince Passaro above. There are times I’ll write a passage that I think is just amazing – work on it for days, weeks, and get it just where I like it and then someone will read it and say, “Dude, this is nice, but it really doesn’t fit.” If they’re right, whole scenes get killed, total mayhem; a tsunami washing all the little darlings away.
    I wrote a passage I really liked awhile ago about a lake at the base of the mountains. At the bottom of the lake were these huge, shifting boulders that divers and adventurers explored, in part because of the 60/40 odds of the boulders moving while the people were underwater. Occasionally someone would become trapped by the boulders and drown, a prospect that nearly excited the risk takers to orgasm. The shifting sands of time or something like that. It was a long winded and beautiful description (I thought), but my wife read it and didn’t even smile when she told me it didn’t fit the story. Doom and gloom. Edited it down to two sentences. Sometimes it hurts to say goodbye.
    I don’t know if this counts as genocide, but sometimes I’ll send the story back in time (haven’t tried going forward yet, but I imagine that could work, too), the same characters, modern dialogue, just a change of scenery to shake things up.

  18. Nope, never had to kill one, but that’s probably because I underwrite. I avoid adding anything that might require more work, and that includes extra characters and scenes.

    Or, let’s put it this way: I’m lazy.

    I will say that screenplays are a lot more demanding when it comes to a pure format and streamlined structure. There’s not nearly the same kind of “room” to keep the extraneous.

  19. I have to kill darlings almost every minute of every writing day. Since I’m working on a narrative nonfiction tale, almost all of those darlings are some form of me.

    For instance, I got to go to a symposium hosted by the Dalai Lama at Castel Gandolfo in Rome. It is the Pope’s summer residence. There were about 200 people total at this symposium and I was one of them. Cool, huh?

    As I was writing about it to illustrate a specific point in the story, the thought crossed my mind that by leaving out a short sentence or two, I could make it seem as if i was somehow summoned by the Dalai Lama himself to go to this thing; like he just knew this dorky, frizzy-haired girl from nowhere was such a bright shining beacon of enlightenment, he had to have me there. This wouldn’t be a lie, right, if I just left out that sentence explaining how I got to go having nothing to do with being special? It’s a minor detail that no one needs to know, not a lie of omission to make myself seem cool, right?

    I killed that little egoic darling and wrote the truth in that instance, but it did not die without a fight. Seemingly every other day I have to keep doing it when I write a chapter and my ego thinks, “I’m not putting that in there because I look like a jackass.” And then, “But you were a jackass.” Followed by, “Oh yeah, I guess I was!” It’s strangely freeing.

    It’s gotten so I just leave the bloody Samurai sword out next to my computer as I have to commit literary harakiri all the time. It barely even hurts anymore.

  20. I thought it was Gertrude Stein who quoth the darlings issue. Oh well. Everyone has said it since. My favorite dead darling was a long list of cheeses, how I loved the way the sounded and rearranged them to get just the right ring. Then a draft later, delete. It was just a list. Perhaps worthy at the wine and cheese shop. Yum. I don’t know. Most often I stomp my curlicues when I read them aloud. They make a clanking sound. The ones that stay I rely on a few wonderful readers for their razor work. Most I don’t remember, don’t even give a second thought. The one I’ve held on to is:

    Time is not an hour glass. It’s the accumulation of little white dog hairs on my jeans, one by twenty by one.

  21. My darling is the serial comma, and I would sooner be killed than to kill it. If I ever get a book contract, a serial comma rider has to be part of the deal.

    • But T.P, surely, with this comma issue, you must know, all things considered, that the best way, as they say, to deal with it, would be to, umm, where was I, oh yes, the comma issue, don’t you think, if you really, really, you know, needed them, there’d be a, you know, comma thingie key, on your, umm, keyboard?

      • H-Pants.
        I have a comma thingie on my keyboard and though my finger may pause above it…alas I press so seldomly I am considered lapsing in it’s use. I envy TP and her afinity for commas…because they are a mystery to me…a breath within a sentence…for sure.

        I love dots because it was my mother’s name.

  22. In places I should, I can’t. Sometimes applies to thread or person. Knocked someone off in first book. Can’t describe. Too classically maudlin. Revisionist history. Make my most beloveds commit worst trespasses to those closest. Revisionist history. “Is this book part of a series?” Yeah. The Purge Chronicles.

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