Fiction writers always hear that we should “kill your darlings.” William Faulkner is the first credited with this excellent advice, and it has been repeated by many other authors, including Stephen King. I’ve always nodded when I heard it, and I’ve lost count of how many times I repeated it to my students. But after writing six thrillers and three young adult Star Crossed novels, not to mention mentoring many authors, I finally had to ask myself, “Which darlings?”
Here are the ones I believe you should murder first.
The Researchitis Darling. How nice for you. You’ve spent a year researching a topic, and you want to dump it all on your reader from Page 1. I can so relate. Thanks to my Cosmopolitan astrologer friend, Hazel Dixon-Cooper, I researched every aspect of astrology in order to write the Star Crossed Series. As a Gemini ruled by Mercury, I got kind of obsessed by where one’s Mercury was located, and what that meant. Mercury in Pisces? Less forthcoming. In Aries? A communication champion who blows rules out the window. In Taurus? Even more controlling. But—and this is a big but—my readers were still working on their Sun signs. They weren’t ready for their Rising signs, their Moons, let alone Mercury. I killed my research.
The Name Darling. You name a character Gayle Louise Ramon because that was your kindergarten best friend’s name. Except you are writing a young adult novel. As in set in the present. Rethink. Social Security has a great Baby Names section on its Web site. You can input the year of your character’s birth, and it will give you the most popular names at that time. Pretty easy. Step away from your character names. Kill them.
The Purple Prose Darling. This one’s more difficult to kill. But you must. Go through and highlight every phrase that made you feel like a writer. Then kill it. I’m ashamed to say that at the end of my first Star Crossed novel, ARIES RISING, I have an emotional scene where Logan, my protagonist, runs out to her front yard and sees the home and the neighborhood she has grown up in with new eyes. The sun is rising on this new day in Logan’s life, and she thinks: The morning is glad to be here, and so am I. At the time I wrote it, I thought I was in Logan’s head. But I was only in my head. Bonnie trying to be a writer. I killed it.
The Beginning Darling. This is the most invisible—and most difficult—darling. The most difficult one to kill, that is. When you wrote that book, you had nothing but your first few words. Now you still have those words, but they may no longer be the right words to launch your story. Think about your message. Think about what your story means. Then look at that first sentence and first paragraph. Do you still need it? Can you refine or change it. Or can you kill that darling? I’m betting you can.
Bonnie Hearn Hill is the author of the Star Crossed astrology series from Running Press/Perseus Books. If you’d like to win a copy of TAURUS EYES or GEMINI NIGHT, leave a comment here, and we’ll pick a winner. You can e-mail Bonnie or visit her at www.bonniehearnhill.com.
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