Tuesday 19 January 2010

The “Kill Your Darlings” Edit

This is about edit fifteen out of eighteen for me. It’s something that the writing community talks about a lot but what does it actually mean?
I’ve noticed this time as I’ve gone through my 103,000 word text, Babel, that much of what needs cutting out here actually doesn’t make sense. It’s almost as if you are using language that’s sounds good but that doesn’t fit with the rest. Often, it also doesn’t mean what you wanted it to.
There are a few other bits and pieces as well.
So, today, I’m going to give you some examples.
I cut a whole paragraph out of Babel about a third of the way through. Believe it or not, those of you who have met him, Kaleem is getting a little oversexed. Oh, yes, don’t blush, there is a little sex in Babel – mainly from the point of view of his girlfriend – yes he gets one of those too - but I’m not giving too much away, I promise. I do use his point of view occasionally and I decided that he was becoming a bit of a rabbit. One of my concerns is that whilst Melvin Burgess went into the graphic details for the boys, little has been written for the girls. Anyway, on this occasion, Kaleem has a lustful thought at an entirely inappropriate moment. I realised that this had been happening a lot lately. Also, my text actually becomes stronger if I leave the reader to imagine what was on his mind rather than spell it out in my dogged determination to be graphic. I’d overdone it this time.
Here are a few more examples of smaller cuts:
“Gradually, though, the sun came up and dried Kaleem’s clothes.” It sounds like a deliberate action by the sun. The sun comes up at a set speed. And why “though”? Well, it was cool and dark as they set off. The “though” sounds good but if you think about it, there is no contradiction. Anyway, the gradualness is in the drying of the clothes. It became “As the sun came up it gradually dried Kaleem’s clothes.”
At the end of that chapter I write:
“Ben Alki nodded. “You should come and meet some of the guys,” he said.
It was Kaleem’s turn to nod.”
Yes, a nice ending with a hint of decision and drama. However, it’s slightly clichéd. If he has to nod, just make him nod. He doesn’t need to have a turn. In the end I decided I didn’t need him nodding at all.
Later when we are getting to the car chase, when things are hotting up, I write.
“We might be,” said Abel. “We need to be vigilant.”
Such elegant speeches. Never from the mouth of Abel.  But it’s what all good people in all good adventure stories say, isn’t it? “We need to be vigilant.” Abel is more likely to say “We need to watch out,” or “We need to keep our eyes open.”
About half way through the book one of my characters knows she is unconscious but can’t seem to wake up. I originally wrote:
“Time drifted past aimlessly.” Oh my, oh my. Apart from the awkward personification of time, what did that actually mean? It sounded good, yes. I replaced it with “Time seemed to pass slowly like someone wandering around aimlessly.”    
The same character later finds herself “dissolving into a meditative state.” It sounds as if she completely disappears just because she is meditating. It has a ring to it but the verb is too strong. I replaced it with “slipped into a meditative state”.
See what I mean about it sounding good but not really meaning much?   
Go on, kill off a few yourself.

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