Last week, I tried to draft a Thursday Thirteen list called “Thirteen Bits of Writing Advice I Totally Ignore (Usually)”, but I got stuck on #9. While I’m sure I’ll finish that draft at some point, one of them has been sticking in my head, especially as I work through the rough draft of Taming Eliza Jane.
There are plenty of resources out there detailing the origins of the phrase, what the originator meant, and how it’s been corrupted. I’m going to stick to my interpretation of the phrase, and how it was foisted on a young writer new to the internet and soaking up every bit of how-to “expert” advice she could. (Yeah, that would be me, about 6 years ago.)
A darling is a passage from your manuscript—narrative, dialogue, whatever—that is not only awesome, it’s wicked :censor: awesome. It’s the kind of passage that when you read it back to yourself, you have to get up out of your chair and do a victory lap. It’s a rush—you don’t suck, you don’t write crap. You can’t, because you just wrote the perfect line. It’s an orgasm on paper.
And you should kill it? Why? From what I gather, an orgasmic passage must be precocious. It’s literary grandstanding. The author’s ego intruding on the story. So…you must kill the darling.
To quote my sister, “Screw that, man.”
I think Taming Eliza Jane will be the most voice-driven of my books, and there are a ton of lines I love. But there’s one that, I swear, still makes me giggle with glee every time I read it. It’s definitely a darling. And I’m supposed to kill it? I think not, thanks.
To me, a darling could be grandstanding, but often it’s the author’s voice, the characters, the story and talent coming together in a big, awesome way in one passage. And the thought that a new writer could cut that passage because of “advice” that’s been bastardized in some Writer 101 version of the game Telephone really pisses me off. Darlings should be embraced and nurtured. If it turns out they really are nothing more than precocious little interlopers, your editor can tie the noose around their necks and make you kick out the chair. But it shouldn’t be done just because the passage knocks your socks off. On what planet does that even make sense?
So love your darlings—unless you have to kill them. But don’t kill them just because they’re darlings.