On The Art Of Writing

There is a slew of incredibly well-known authors and great minds that have been attributed to one of the more common pieces of literary advice: kill your darlings. There is however only one actual source of this advice, a guy you’ve never heard of named Arthur Quiller-Couch and his published lectures from a hundred years ago titled “On The Art Of Writing”.

And it also turns out, that on top of never knowing where this came from, I have been taking this advice entirely wrong. The darlings referred to in this advice are your own words, not the characters you have spent such time getting to know and nurture and grow. It is meant to explain to you that whatever long-winded garbage you’re proud of is usually exactly what I just said it was, and you need to cut it out and try again or just drop it altogether. That is not the tack I have taken on this, but I have got to admit that my writing has marginally improved because of this.

Originally, I only wanted the best for my characters. A few years back, I spent about nine months building their little world and giving them reasons for what they do and who they are and I only ever wanted the best for them. I truly wanted them to get what they deserved, despite their every effort to the contrary, and my overall writing suffered for it. Dialogue felt stilted when I went back over it and decisions sometimes felt over-explained because I was using the pages to convince myself of them rather than getting out of the way and letting these characters grow organically.

This summer after packing all of my worldly possessions and moving back to New York, I came across my last printed draft and two mead five star notebooks filled with all of my scribblings during the process. I read back over everything, and maybe I’m just older and wiser… but exceedingly more likely I just have fresh perspective, and these characters just don’t make any sense to me anymore. And that’s when I took to heart a more personal interpretation of Kill Your Darlings; I wanted to watch this world burn. Obviously this was meant as much more of a catharsis than an actual strategy to fixing this book, but I think I’m actually on to something. They don’t deserve a happy ending, that don’t even deserve a neutral ending. They don’t deserve anything.

They have to earn it, just like the rest of us.

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