Wednesday, February 13, 2013

“Kill Your Darlings” - The Muse Giveth & The Muse Taketh Away


Every writer has been through it. You get an idea for a great scene and you write and you write and you write, totally convinced that you've had a stroke of genius. When you finish and you read back over the new section you realize something awful: You've created a wonderful scene that has NOTHING to do with your story. Damn. Now what?

This happened to me over the weekend. I've been struggling with the sequel to my novelette, The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic. This is called The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge and it is growing from a novelette, to a novella, and is now mighty close to a full-length novel. It's a good story but the plotting is really tight and the timeline is tense. The story takes up where the last one left off. It begins with an article in the newspaper about the discovery of a body buried in the back garden of a Beacon Hill townhouse and it takes off from there.

The story is told from the perspective of Vivienne Lang, a strange, moody, misfit of a woman who was the best friend of Mattie Thorndike, the heroine of The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, when they were children. Like Mattie, Viv was a poor-little-rich-girl – lots of assets but absent parents, being raised by grandparents. From the time they were five Viv and Mattie spent hours in GrammyLou's elegant but mysterious Beacon Hill townhouse, playing together and talking about the ghost they believed lived in the ballroom. Then at the age of twelve, Viv's life took a different turn when her young, irresponsible mother turned up and yanked her away from her life in Boston to live with her in southern California.

Now Viv is back in Boston, caring for her elderly grandfather, studying martial arts, and trying to make sense of her messed up life. One day she encountrs Trent Doyle, the handyman both she and Mattie had crushes on as girls. Trent helps her re-connect with Mattie and strange things begin to happen.

So far so good. At the gym one day, Viv meets a handsome, sexy South Boston former-cop and begins falling in love but he is not entirely what he seems. So this is where I went off the rails. I got so involved with the character of Joe Quinn that I wrote and wrote and wrote and, a couple thousand words later, realized that this was all well and good, but it had NOTHING to do with the story.

Hemingway said, “Kill your darlings.” I didn't want to kill them. I kept thinking up excuses why I should keep all that stuff but my Inner Editor was not impressed. She kept scowling at me and saying, “Remember the story. That comes first.” But... but... but... I like this stuff. It's really good, I said. She frowned at me. “Do I have to swat you? It has nothing to do with your story. Kill it.” Finally, late Sunday afternoon, after pouting and feeling like I wasted the whole weekend, I did as I was told. I deleted it. Damn.

There is something that seems bitterly unfair when this happens. Why does the Muse give us all this good stuff only to find out it has no purpose? What's the point in that? The point is that creativity is endless and, all those ideas and beautiful words live inside of us and, while they might not be useful here, they are not going to be lost forever. They'll just incubate until there is a good place for them.

Last night, in the middle of the night, I woke up thinking about how the story was moving along and, suddenly, I had a very good idea – followed by another one. It was much too early but I didn't want to risk losing them. I got up, got dressed, and came in here to write. I captured both of them and, the more I re-read and refine them, the better I like them. They are just what I needed. I'm so happy and now I can't wait to get back at it and finish up this story. The Muse giveth and the Muse taketh away.

Thanks for reading.  

1 comment:

Edith Maxwell said...

I know that feeling, Kathleen! You work so hard on the scene. I hope you at least saved it to another folder, just in case you can use it in the future.

I also know the "muse giveth" feeling. I've been writing every day now that I'm home with my healing knee and it keeps my WIP active in my brain. Almost every day I wake up with a message in my brain: "You need to up the suspense in that scene in auto repair shop" or "Where's Jake been? He needs to get back into the story." Fun stuff!

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