William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
What does this mean? It’s a common piece of advice for writers who must cut sentences, scenes, characters, even entire plots because they no longer work within the story world. They might be beautifully written. You might love them. Still, they must be axed.
I’m doing some darling murder these days as I take another swing at a novel that I wrote a few years back. A SERIOUS LAPSE was rejected by a multitude of publishers, much to my own and my agent’s dismay.
Something wasn’t quite right about the way the story unfolded, or the character arcs, or the pacing or structure. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the novel and so I’ve taken up my editor’s tools and have been rewriting. The first thing I killed was the title: my new working title is FLIGHT RISK.
If I had to describe the novel in one sentence (and I do, although I hate doing it), I’d say something like this:
A plane crash survivor endures a reluctant journey into the core of his identity as a husband, father, and provider.
The novel revolves around Robert, who survives the accident, and his wife, Sasha. But I’ve eliminated an entire subplot about Sasha, and here are a couple of short passages that I really liked but have had to snuff out:
She remembers the first time she kissed a boy. She was thirteen. It happened behind a barn. He leaned in and her back pressed against the barn and she felt a pinch below her waist and above her behind, in the exposed flesh between the cropped bottom of her shirt and the top of her jeans, and later when she still felt the pinch she looked in the mirror and noticed a sliver of wood embedded in her skin, a tiny dark shard, but she didn’t tell anyone and she didn’t dig it out and when the spot began to get infected she rubbed on antibiotic cream. After a few days the redness and swelling went away and the sliver seemed to burrow deeper under her skin, and soon it was just a shadow as if drawn by pencil and after that it disappeared altogether, absorbed by her body, she imagined, but still inside her.
I clung to that passage because I found it meaningful and evocative, like an important memory, but it has no place in the narrative now. RIP.
Here’s another very brief one:
Sasha found Robert’s pants hanging in the closet and took the hotel keycard from his wallet. It was easy to find. There was nothing else in his wallet other than his license, a single credit card, and a thin sheaf of bills. He carried so little. There were no photos of her or Erin. No receipts. He wasn’t one of those men whose lives spilled out of their wallet.
I liked that passage because in a few words it helped define both of the characters. But having Sasha going through Robert’s wallet to look for the hotel key no longer worked within the plot. RIP.
There are many more passages and sections I’ve had to scrap. Oh, darlings, forgive me. I will miss you. At least I’ve resurrected you somewhat here.