Thursday, November 09, 2017

Committing Murder For The Sake of My Craft

I commit murder on the page quite often. Sometimes multiple murders. As a crime writer, it's what I do. An old boyfriend used to ask me: Is this book a LBC or HBC? Meaning, does this book have a low body count or a high body count.

Today I committed a different type of murder. It wasn't on the page as much as the page or pages themselves. Basically, I killed an entire short story in progress. Why? Because it wasn't living up to its potential.

Yeah, I'm a bad ass in that way.

I've been working on this particular short story for months. Longer than it often takes me to write a novel. It's a departure from what I normally write and I found it laborious and dull. Usually writing comes easy to me. I'm a fast writer, often speeding through words with ease as the story flows from my head and out my fingers. But this story was like lugging a bag of rocks up Mt. Everest. So today, I had to really take a good long look at the work. Was the drudgery of it trying to tell me something? Was it the story line itself? Was it the main character?

What? What? What?

Over the past few months, I've sat in front of the computer screen staring at the page, begging it to tell me what was wrong. When I got no answer, I'd push ahead, putting words to the page in the hope it would spring to life. But no. It was as flat a cardboard and just as compelling. Finally, out of desperation, this morning, armed with strong coffee, I thought long and hard about it. I didn't think about what was wrong with the story itself, but whether or not the story deserved to live at all.

I was contemplating killing off my darling.

I've killed darlings before. It's a term used for deleting scenes and phrases in your writing that you're particularly pleased with, but that don't move the story along or don't work at all, no matter how well written. In this case it was fourteen pages of worthlessness. A trophy to wasted time and a wrong vision.

But here's the thing... once I decided that, yes, it was time to murder this travesty of fiction, a new story started peeking out from behind the naked bones of the story I'd been writing.  A different story with a totally different feel, but with some similarities. For example, while the main protagonist had to go, another character could stay and even thrive. The setting stayed, too. Intrigued by this new idea, I started a new short story.

Guess what? YES! out of the remains of the old story emerged a wonderfully funny and entertaining story. I've only written a few paragraphs so far, but those words are singing loud and clear. I can't wait to see where it leads.

So, dear ones, don't be afraid to kill your darlings. On the page, that is.  Because behind that carcass might be a beautiful new life just waiting to spring forth and take its place. A fabulous phoenix rising from the ashes.

November is National Novel Writing Month. I figure if people can complete a novel in a month, I sure can finish this new short story!

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