The much quoted and rather brilliant Kurt Vonnegut gave us eight rules for writing fiction. I’m not a fan of rules, so I have taken them as useful suggestions. One of which is particularly resonant at editing time:
“Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action”
And so, after the first draft is written, we are supposed to set about killing our darlings. Words, sentences, paragraphs, whole swathes of narrative that may be beautifully crafted, descriptive, witty or heart stopping…but are completely extraneous to both the plot and the character.
In the film industry, the cutting room floor is not so terminal. Scenes that didn’t make it into the finished movie are stored tidily, just in case they should ever be needed again. This appeals to the part of me that kept all my university essays for fifteen years and five house moves. To the part of me that finds it hard to discard even one of the drawings that my artistically prolific little girls produce. To the part of me that has kept letters for thirty years, bundled up in ribbons, even though the sentiments have long since faded.
And so, I confess to you here, my darlings are not dead. I couldn’t do it. Instead they are cut and pasted into their own offcuts file – “Dead Darlings” – just in case I should ever need to splice them back in.
This may seem like taking the easy way out, but who is it hurting? It gave me the courage to chop away with gay abandon at my manuscript, and it’s not like they take up any room in the attic.