Writing Writ #3: Kill Your Darlings

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Writing Writ #3: Kill Your Darlings

“Kill your darlings” is a time old piece of writing advice, that’s been attributed to Stephen King, William Falkner and Oscar Wilde. It’s also one that I think gets up the nose of most writers, after all, none of us like to be told to get rid of that bit of writing that we absolutely love.

However, the point of “kill your darlings” is not to tear out every sparkly new metaphor and destroy all your precious similes. It’s about reminding you to find a place of objectivity, so that you can become a writer that other people will want to read.

Step 1:

First things first, I want you to take off your ego and leave it at the door. Whether you’re a sufferer of crippling self-doubt, or one of those rare writers who’s cursed with arrogance, your ego has no place in the editing room. It’ll only serve to trip you up and send you sprawling. So, when you’re reading your own writing put yourself to one side and step into the shoes of a reader. I’ve extended this clothing analogy too far, haven’t I?

Step 2:

Now you need to be brutal with your work. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it won’t sound right to a reader, so question it! You’ve said her eyes were the blue of a stormy ocean, but do you also need to say her lips are the plush pink of an orchid and her hair hung like gilded satin around her shoulders all in the same paragraph? Or maybe you’ve described how the kitchen counters are dense black marble, but your floors are shimmering laminate and your cupboards are beautifully antiqued oak? Here’s the thing, these are all reasonable images and descriptions to conjure up. But stick them all in one breath and you’re likely to give your reader a headache. Pick your favourite children, then suck it up and kill the rest.

Step 3:

Now, learn when to resurrect. What am I saying? Well, let’s pretend you’re now two chapters down the line and you’re staring at the same woman. Previously your hero was looking into her eyes while she was angry, so the stormy ocean imagery made sense, but it didn’t make sense to talk about her plush pout and glistening golden locks. However, now your hero has realised he has feelings for this woman, and they’re having a blink off over a cup of coffee. You can now sneak one of those murdered babies back in to your text. And if your description is looking particularly sparse, you can resurrect both.

Step 4:

However, learn when to bury it deep. While there will be occasions when an image is so good, it’s worth sticking back in somewhere else…there will also be darlings that just need to stay dead. For instance, the Writeryjig Clubamabob crew recently called me out for using an image in dialogue that seemed far too rehearsed. Arguably, Olivia (The End of Atlas) is the type to rehearse conversations over and over, so the line almost made sense, but given the scene it was over the top. As it was, I ended up editing the whole scene because Olivia was a huge drama queen at a point in the story where it was completely inappropriate, and my image died with the dialogue. And dead it will stay because it was too contrived. (FYI, I would tell you what the line was, but it’s a major spoiler.)

Step 5:

Finally, start applying “kill your darlings” to the bigger picture. This advice isn’t just about imagery, or even shoddily disguised polemics. It can also be used to look at the broader picture of your novel to pick out what’s not working. In my time, I have personally written characters with voices ten years too old for them, loveable assholes that have just been straight up assholes, and have essentially embedded the opening to a fanfiction of my own characters into more than one novel. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you love a character or scene (or indeed how much you chuckled when you wrote it), it’s just got to go!

 

Anyway, I hope this helps those of you who really struggle with the idea of “kill your darlings”. Cutting out things we love can be incredibly difficult, but if it’s going to irritate the reader or just seem plain silly in the greater scheme of things then better to kill a phrase than wipe out a novel.

Now, I’m off to get back to hacking my other love apart (my dissertation). Let me know down in the below if you have any tips for killing your darlings, or what your thoughts are on this tip.

Catch y’all next week!

Best,

EM.

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Poem: Penny For Your Thoughts?

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Poem: Penny For Your Thoughts?

I remember the day,
Not the exact date,
But the moment
When the penny finally dropped.

It was another lazy afternoon,
Just me and you,
Walking for hours, talking for miles.

And then you said,
“I like these random conversations,”
And paused, still in motion,
As the tiny metallic object fell
And rolled around your skull.

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Plans: Life After University

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Plans: Life After University

I was really hoping that today was going to be a nice, easy day off. I was feeling a touch ill yesterday, but I pushed through thinking that I’d have today to recover. However, I woke up with random lower back pain, swiftly followed by an email from my supervisor which suggests I’ve got significantly more work to do on my dissertation than expected.

This has led to a crumby day, during which I’ve indulged in watching the show I turn to whenever I just want to wallow…12 Monkeys (TV series, not film). Seriously, I’ve never watched anything more depressing than James Cole running laps around himself through time. Mainly because I hate 90% of the characters, and the 10% I do like are crazy/ sociopathic.

But anyway, I still wanted to put a post together. After all, I’ve got a nice streak going, and I’d hate to break it. I also wanted to think positive thoughts for a little while, before I inhale a tub of ice cream. So, I thought I’d talk a little about some of the things I’d like to do after I finish my master’s degree, specifically in the first year.

1. Travel in the USA:

I’ve always wanted to travel, but my life pretty much went school, university, job…university. With this next year, I want to take some time to visit the places I’ve always wanted to see in person, and hopefully have some adventures along the way. I’m planning on doing a trip to New York and this little place in Ohio that I found by chance on Google Maps. Travel is going to be interesting, but I’m up for a challenge.

2. Self-Publish Moon-sitting:

Moon-Sitting is the working title for a novella that I’m playing around with. It’s much heavier on the science fiction than I usually go, but it’s an idea that was just going to keep rolling around in my head if I didn’t write it down. I hoped it would be a short story…it was not. So now, I want to use it as a trial story, which I’ll probably put up on Amazon for cheap, along with a sample here so folks can try before they buy. At the moment I’m about 3/4 of my way through the first draft, so I’m hoping to get it out before 2019.

3. Kickstarter a Lit Mag:

I really love reading other people’s work and helping them make it the best it can be, so I think I’d really enjoy putting together a Lit Mag. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing since the beginning of last year, but it’s been so chaotic with work and then university that I just haven’t had the time to really sit down and think about how to get it started. However, I do know that I’d want to pay folks for their written work, and possibly commission some accompanying art work too. If you’re interested, I recommend following me here, or on Twitter (@EM_Writing) as I’ll likely put updates there, when there are any 😉

4.  Finish The End Of Atlas:

I’ve been working on Atlas since 2013, so the end has been a long time coming. My intention after my first round of university had been to take a gap year, but I let myself be talked out of that. Now, though, I’m going to bite the bullet and push to do what I want to do. Finish a novel and try to get it published. At least then, when I’m 80, I won’t be able to say I didn’t try.

5. Figure out if I still want to do a PhD, and what I want to do it on:

I went into my master’s thinking I’d come straight out the other end into a PhD. But at the moment, I’d love a break. And some thinking time. I’ve learnt a lot about linguistics this year – everything from discourse analysis, to psycholinguistics – and it’s opened up a lot of possible avenues for me to head down. I’ve really enjoyed analysing comic books, but I also liked playing with more numerical data, and even fiddling around in online forums. I know now, as well, that I could certainly turn my current dissertation into a book length project on the linguistic elements that make up fanfiction. But right now, this second, I couldn’t think of anything I want to do less than analyse more fanfiction (that’s a comment on my current mood, not a comment on fanfiction.) Thus, I’m going to take a year before I go thinking about putting in an application.

 

So yes, I have a big year ahead planned. Just have to make it through this dissertation, and I can get going O_O I’ll get there. I will.

If you’re interested in any of the projects I’ve mentioned above, do feel free to follow me over on Twitter for the latest bits and pieces (again @EM_Writing). I also post micro-stories daily using the #vss365 prompt. So go have a look see 😉

All the best for this week!

EM.

 

Fiction: The Intersection

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Fiction: The Intersection

She stood on a bar stool and yelled the name, “Larry!”

When everyone turned, she rolled her eyes and yelled again, in perfect British English “I’m looking for a man named Larry, or Lawrence.”

I looked around, no-one waved or put their hand up. Slowly, I raised my own arm. She looked at me and frowned, then climbed down. She plucked two whiskies from the counter and stalked over to my table.

“You don’t look like a Larry.” Her mouth twisted.

“Well, that’s because I’m not. I’m Alex.” I held out a hand, but she didn’t take it. “Sorry, I was just worried you might fall.”

She sighed. She turned as if she was about to leave, but then her head snapped back to me.

“Wait. What did you say your name was?”

“Alex.”

She grinned. “Holy shit. I found one of you.”

She slid into the booth and handed me a whisky. I suddenly felt like I’d made a terrible decision.

“So, Alex, how’s life going?”

She was tipsy, but not drunk. She had the air of someone who didn’t often walk up to strangers and start a conversation, but hard spirits were bolstering her confidence.

“Uh. Fine. I guess.”

She fixed me with a steely glare. The blue of her eyes was practically translucent.

“I don’t believe you.” She smirked.

I tilted my head to one side. “What makes you say that?”

“It’s Friday night and you’re sat in the gloomiest part of a bar by yourself.”

“Maybe I like to be alone?”

“Oh, you do. But not normally in public. Hence you calling me over.”

I clicked my tongue. “And I guess your life is just fantastic?”

“It’s alright. Not brilliant. I’m on a quest.”

“A quest?”

“Yeah. I’m looking for someone.”

“This Larry?”

She nodded and took a sip of her whisky.

“Who’s this guy to you?”

“Oh, uh, no-one yet. But I’m hoping the love of my life.”

I snorted. “You’re joking right?”

She frowned again. “No. No. Unfortunately not. I’ve never met him. Never spoken to him. But I know he exists. I think he’s American. This seemed as good a place as anywhere to start searching.”

I looked at her. I sure did know how to pick ‘em. She was crazy as all shit, but then I’d got past worse.

“So, what have you done that’s ruined everything?” she asked.

My heart skipped a beat. “Excuse me?”

“Well, I mean. The Alex I know is prone to doing…shall we say, stupid things? Things that have a habit of making his life a complete disaster.”

I took a swig of my own whisky and hissed. “I don’t know you, lady.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. Lily.” She offered me her hand. I shook it.

“I’m still not telling you anything.”

She grinned. “But there is something to tell! Interesting.”

I grunted. “So, why New York?”

She shrugged. “I’ve always wanted to come here. Figured two birds, one bar stool. Plus, I wrote this thing the one time where Larry was a professor at some university, so I thought I’d check out a few of the big ones in town.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You know you sound completely mental, right?”

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. But I kind of gave up pretending to be sane when I left the UK.”

I laughed. “That sounds like and interesting way to live.”

“So far it’s paid off.” She knocked back the rest of her drink. “Look, I’m moving on tomorrow; I’ve rented a car and I’m headed to DC. You should come with me.”

“What?” I chuckled. “Lily, that’s nice and all, but we’ve only just met.”

“And?”

“And, apart from the fact that either one of us could turn out to be a serial killer, I have a life.”

“That you don’t enjoy, and that you’ve recently fucked up so badly, you’re inevitably going to turn up at my apartment tomorrow with a bag.” She pulled a pen and card from her pocket. “This is my number, this is my current address. If you’re late, give us a ring.”

She dropped the card down next to my glass. As she got up, she clicked her back and suddenly she held herself with a completely different posture. It was almost as if she’d been possessed by another person entirely.

“I’m not coming with you.” I stated.

“Sure thing, see you tomorrow at 11, okay?” Then she winked at me, and began to walk away.

“Good luck on your quest, Lily!” I called.

I sat there, sipping the rest of my whisky. My heart was pounding and I had no idea why.

 

I didn’t go the next morning. And I didn’t ring her.

 

The day after, I packed a bag and headed to Virginia.

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My Self-Inflicted Day Off

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My Self-Inflicted Day Off

My dissertation has been playing on my mind a lot lately. Not surprising as I now have about 6 weeks to get it done. I’m not far off the word count now, but I know I have to cut about 2k from it.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been shutting myself in my room and watching Netflix or talking to folks on Twitter, until I can summon the energy to write my daily word chunk. A word chunk, which I am only supposed to write on weekdays, but inevitably seem to end up doing on Saturday and Sunday as well, because I can’t seem to stop myself.

So, today – with a great deal of effort – I took a day off. And not just a day sat in front of the TV, but one which involved going outside and not working on my dissertation in any way, shape or form. I thought, instead of Dissertation Drama, you might like to join me on My Self-Inflicted Day Off.

 

Step 1: Talk to Friend Over Breakfast

This was kind of a happy accident. I had a phone call from a friend, just as I sat down to eat a bowl of cereal. Today she’s moving into her first house, so we talked battle plans while I munched on my Weetabix.

Step 2: Drop Off Books

My next task was to get rid of a few books from my tower of dissertation resources that I just wasn’t using. I know what you’re thinking, but it really wasn’t work. I was in it for the sunny walk across campus, and the quiet cool of UoB’s new library. I did, however, stop to help out a budding international student and what I assume was his mum. I knew the lost look on their faces as they stared at the campus map, so I pointed out his course hub and the registry office. Then I plodded on, returned my books and picked one up on intertextuality. I only read enough to know it was going to be useful. I promise!

Step 3: Retail Therapy

I then drove out to Longbridge, to the little high street they have there. I dropped into Boots (a drugstore chain here in the UK) and picked up some make-up remover, some shiny, shiny hairgrips and a really cheap charcoal mask, which I am super excited to try out.

Step 4: Sit in Coffee Shop and Write

It’s been weeks since I’ve sat and written, so I decided to build this into my day. I went to a Costa, grabbed a cooler and a slice of tiffin, and did some work on…what I’m currently calling Moon-Sitting. It’s a story I’ve been playing with alongside The End of Atlas. I thought it was going to be a short story, but it’s heading for a novella. I’m thinking about maybe self-publishing it on Amazon later this year, when I’m unemployed and have all the time in the world to work on my writing 😉 Anyway, I wrote a chunk of Lucky’s childhood and then dashed off to Sainsbury’s to grab some cereal.

Step 5: Do the Evening Thing

This evening, I plan on cooking myself a clean fry up (all the protein, less of the fat), eating ice cream, having fun with my new facemask, and playing video games until my heart’s content. The aim is to occupy myself enough that I don’t reach for my laptop for the rest of the evening, hence I’m writing this now to avoid stumbling onto my dissertation and 8 o’clock this evening.

 

Hopefully, I’ll be relaxed enough by the end of today that I’ll also make it through tomorrow without working. Then I can unleash myself on Monday, and murder a couple of tables and the rest of my Watson in fanfiction comparison in one go.

I hope you guys enjoyed this, or at least weren’t entirely bored by what is essentially a diary entry. What do you do to try and occupy yourself when you’re stressed out? Always open to suggestions 😉

Best,

EM.

P.S. Here’s a really pretty bonus pic of the library blending into the sky. It’s still a weird building, but it’s grown on me.

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Poem: Recipe For a Writer

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Poem: Recipe for A Writer

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Child
  • 1 Overactive Imagination
  • 1 Laundry Basket
  • 1 Swing
  • 1 Decent Sized Vocabulary
  • 100’s and 1000’s of Good Quality Notebooks
  • 1 Dollop of Encouragement
  • Books to Taste

 

Step 1:

Take child and add your overactive imagination and a laundry basket. They may initially start by pretending to be a Darlek. This might seem derivative, but fear not. Soon they will discover that the lid of the basket makes for an interesting shield. They will take on the role of a warrior who’s spirit has been trapped inside the shield by their father. They will fight for honour and peace, but they will quickly forget who they’re fighting against, because keeping track of the storyline is not yet the child’s forte.

 

Step 2:

Add to your newly inspired child, 1 swing. Allow child to swing as high as they want, or spin themselves dizzy. They will then invent a world in which sparkly slivers of coloured light are under attack by Balloon Heads. The Sparklies know that the child is their chosen one, destined to save their people, but the Balloon Heads want to chop off the child’s head an turn them into one of their people. Pinkie is a noble Sparklie who will lay down his life for the child. Yellow is a traitor and a coward, who will sell the child out. Your child now understands plot, but will never like yellow again.

 

Step 3:

Stir in a decent sized vocabulary and sprinkle child with 100’s and 1000’s of notebooks. Your child will now begin to write down the words that they’ve been wittering to themselves during steps 1 and 2 and will develop an ability to describe what it is they’re seeing at the same time. Do not judge the terrifying way in which the child’s mind works, even if they: create dragons to set fire to bullies hair and save the day, end a war between men and women by having everyone die, or have a man murder a friend because ghostly voices taunted him into it. Instead, add a dollop of encouragement to really enhance that prolific writing bug.

 

Step 4:

Once your child has begun writing furiously add books to taste, but not necessarily to your taste. Ask the child what books they like, and try to give them a steady flow of reading material. This will bring the flavour of that vocabulary out and make those 100’s and 1000’s of notebooks seem all the more attractive to the child.

 

Step 5

The final step is to place your child at a desk, and leave to work until golden.

 

 

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#Goals: Review and Reset 2

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#Goals: Review and Reset 2

I’m currently recovering from spending 2 hours in a car with no air-conditioning in almost 30 degree heat (that’s in Celsius for American friends), so I’ll keep this quarter’s #Goals: Review and Reset short.

It’s been a tough few months, with essay deadlines and dissertation work abounding, but I’m quite impressed with what I’ve managed to achieve.

Review:

Deliver 2 more essays for MA by 23rd of April. – Complete. After the essay I wrote in March drove me mildly insane, it was a relief to move on. I was a little worried, as I’d set myself the challenge of writing 2 papers that required me to choose my own research topic, and neither subjects were theory based. Fortunately, the lecturer leading the module where I had chosen to run an experiment was incredibly supportive and I was able to get my questionnaire out to run while I was working on my other paper. The other paper was slightly more stressful, as there was some discussion about what my question should be. But I did it. Both essays were submitted. And both went down very well 🙂

Identify data sample for dissertation by end of May. – Complete. This was completed…although it was maybe more like the middle of June, largely due to ethical problems that cropped up regarding fanfiction.net ‘s terms of service statement. It was easily solved, but set me back a few days in terms of research.

Get a firm grasp on ethics in relation to dissertation by mid-May. – Complete. Both myself and my supervisor are now fairly certain that I’ve covered my bases. Fingers crossed I don’t have to go dumping my sample again at this point (I’ve already started my analysis).

Write draft of dissertation by end of June. – Incomplete. ~Laughs~ I based this goal on when the university said we should finish a draft by, but it was never going to happen. Particularly not with the amount of gaps in my knowledge I needed to fill, and the amount of narrowing down I needed to do. I’ve essentially gone from “I want to analyse creativity and authenticity in ALL of fanfiction” to “I want to analyse the creativity and authenticity involved in the characterisation of popularly referenced characters involved in these four Sherlock Holmes fanfiction texts using these models.” It took a long time to get there, but I think I finally know what I’m actually doing.

Reach 85k of The End of Atlas by end of June.Incomplete. So close! But no cigar. I only managed to reach 84,143 words. To be fair to myself, with illnesses and dissertation setbacks, I’ve probably only had one session on The End of Atlas this quarter. I also started messing about with a short story, which quickly turned into the workings of a novella that I might try self-publishing in the future. That bad boy is 7.5k…  I do feel like I’m having an affair with these other writing projects. I really do.

Create new logo for blog by end of June. – Complete. I have a drawing done, but I’ve not had chance to digitalise or upload. I think I’m going to postpone making any further changes to this blogsite until I’m done with my masters. I really want to be able to focus and do it properly.

Write blog post at least once a week. – Complete. Popular highlights from this quarter include: The Dos and Don’ts of Double Helix Piercings, Kit the Kat: Warning – May Contain Copious Cat Pictures, and my poem from last week, Seen from a Window in Wales.

Read at least two essays/chapters a week. – Complete. Entirely necessary when trying to put together a model for a topic no-one’s really covered before. Even re-reading articles has been incredibly helpful, as well as making detailed notes in a bullet-esque notebook format. Some of my favourites included: ‘Authentic in Authenticity: The Evolution of Sherlock Holmes on Screen’ by Stephen Joyce, ‘Character Voice in Anime Subtitles’ by Peter Howell and ‘What is Fanfiction and Why are People Saying Such Nice Things about It?’ by Bronwen Thomas. If you can get hold of them, I’d strongly recommend giving them a read.

Keep daily questions journal up-to-date. – Complete.

Keep daily routine: up at 7.30 am, bed by 11pm. – Complete. Although, this routine is now more up at 8am and bed by midnight.

 

So, I’ve managed to complete 8 of my 10 public goals. In addition, I completed all 5 of my private goals, making a total of 13 out of 15 goals achieved 🙂 Not half bad, if I do say so myself.

The end of the next quarter will be the 30th of September, by which time I will have (hopefully) finished my MA. With that in mind, let’s move on to my new targets.

 

Reset:

  1. Write at least 1500 words of dissertation a week until the end of July.
  2. Finish and submit my dissertation by the end of August.
  3. Have a “summer clean” during August.
  4. Make significant edits to The End of Atlas by the end of September.
  5. Edit novella and look into self-publishing by the end of September.
  6. Update CV by the end of September.
  7. Read an actual book by the end of September.
  8. Keep daily questions journal up-to date.
  9. Keep daily routine.
  10. Write one blog post a week.

 

I’ve kept it to 10 goals again, as I know that the next few months are going to be hectic again, as I’m finishing my dissertation and moving. I’ve also not set a word count for Atlas because there are some major changes that I would like to make before I get much further.

I will also be setting 5 private goals for myself, as always.

I feel I should also mention, that I have now achieved one of my new year’s resolutions: keeping a plant alive for 6 months. Beaky the orchid is currently in rest mode, but his leaves and roots are still growing and very green. This is all kinds of impressive as I have literally killed every plant I’ve ever owned…including a few cacti.

Look forward to seeing you next week, folks!

Best,

EM