This piece of literary advice refers to a sacrifice all fiction writers must ultimately make as part of the editing process.
Kill your darlings involves scrutinizing every sentence, every paragraph and every chapter for anything that does not serve the story.
And then deleting it.
Kill Your Darlings, Put Into Action
Well, the time has come for me to kill off one of my darlings – four chapters, actually. One Beta reader too many told me that they slowed down the pace of my story.
I like these chapters. In fact, I love them. The cold, hard truth, however, is that I can’t find an argument strong enough to rationalize their existence.
In my novel anyway.
But that doesn’t mean I have to chuck them all together.
I can publish at least a scene or two in the form of lessons on my blog.
Not only does the following story snippet serve as an example of how to kill your darlings, but it might also entertain those who grew up near a river similar to the Cosumnes River in California.
Killed Darling Turned Into Lesson
I wasn’t prepared for the silence.
Not on land located between two major freeways and two growing towns.
Morgan called it the Cosumnes River Preserve. I dubbed it the land in-between.
When we entered the woods, using the winding dirt roads that connected it to Morgan’s farm, we experienced complete and utter silence. Sure, there were the occasional squawks and songs of birds, the sporadic movement of animals concealed behind bushes and trees, and the sound of our horses’ hoofs, but otherwise, it was so quiet I became aware of the sound of my own breathing.
None of us said a word, deciding by some unvoiced agreement to progress as if on sacred ground. As we wove our way through the canopy of valley oaks, I drew in the musty air with the greed of someone long deprived of oxygen.
The sound of rushing water eventually broke the silence.
“We’re almost there,” Joshua said.
Single file, our horses proceeded down an inclined path to the edge of the swiftly moving river. Morgan was in the lead and spoke loudly so we could hear him above the rushing water. “The Cosumnes is the last undammed river running from the Sierras into the Central Valley. The sandy beach I told you about is a side arm of the river that dries in the summer, but is now buried underwater. Swimming here is dangerous. The water looks calm on top, but the undercurrent can tow even the strongest swimmer along for miles.”
“There are whirlpools, too,” Joshua added.
I felt my own undercurrent – that of fear – and wondered if it would be better if we backed our horses up a bit. As if sensing my concern, Morgan turned his mount and headed up the incline. I was about to do likewise when I caught sight of someone standing on the opposite bank. “Morgan,” I called. “I think I see one of your neighbors.”
He twisted in his saddle. “It’s usually just us.”
“Over there,” I said, pointing at the man with long black hair watching us. He appeared to be naked, except for the mantle of skin draped over his shoulders. In one hand, he held a pointed stick, in the other, what looked like grass.
Morgan frowned. “I don’t see anyone.”
The man was short, five foot six at the most, and his dark eyes were deep set, his nose wide. “There,” I said, jabbing my finger at the solitary man.
“Do you see anyone, Joshua?” Morgan asked.
Joshua sat still as a deer sensing a foreign presence. “He’s from before.”
A shiver shot through me like a swarm of Starlings. You’d think I’d be used to this by now, seeing the dead, but my logical mind, my practical little self, rejected what I saw. “A Native American, I presume.”
“Probably a Miwok,” Morgan said graciously, since he saw nothing. “Of the Cos-os tribe that once lived in this area. They gave the Cosumnes River its name. One of their burial mounds was discovered near here some time in the 60’s.”
“They may be our ancestors,” I said to Joshua, before I realized this was unlikely. Though Joshua and I were half Native American, my mother and his father were descendants of the Esselen tribe in Carmel Valley and Big Sur. To believe the Miwok traveled that far would be a stretch.
“He sees us,” Joshua said.
“Then why isn’t he running for cover?” I asked. We probably made a terrifying sight sitting there on horseback, especially me, with my blonde hair flapping in the breeze like laundry on a clothesline.
“He thinks he passed into the spirit world and that we’re supernatural beings.”
“As he is to us,” I said, not bothering to ask Joshua how he knew this. We could sense things others couldn’t. We had that in common.
“Let’s sing a song,” Joshua said, “so he’ll remember when he wakes from his dream. Something easy, like Row, Row, Row your Boat.”
I turned to Morgan. He tipped his cap. “Let’s do it.”
We repeated the song three times, our voices carrying in the breeze.
The Miwok stood, arms slack.
I peeked at Joshua. His face beamed with an inner glow. And when I refocused on the Miwok, he was gone.
“We were looking back,” Joshua said, “and he was looking forward. It’s all mixed up, isn’t it, the past, the present, and the future?”
“All mixed up in the now,” I said.
For a while, we had been free of time, and in that timeless dimension, we had experienced a different kind of knowing, a knowing of which the mind knows nothing.
“Ready to go?” Morgan asked, undaunted by our little episode. He was accustomed to our psychic abilities and had learned to accept them. “I know of a great spot for lunch, under a giant oak over eight hundred years old.”
I winked at Joshua. “Might as well picnic among friends.”
“Family,” Joshua said. “We’re with family.” He said this so convincingly that I believed it to be true.
So there! One of my darlings got published after all.
And my novel Between Now and Forever will not suffer for its loss.
If you’d like to read more about killing your darlings, check out Kristen Lamb’s post, “Little Darlings and Why They Must Die…For Real.”
As always, thanks for stopping by.