Sunday, April 8, 2012

Save the Darlings!

By Camille Minichino

Earlier this week, April 2, my 16th book, "Mix-Up in Miniature," was released. What better time to visit the blog that supported my then-new crafts series nearly five years ago? Thanks to KillerHobbies for always being so welcoming!

One of the rules of writing that has been around for nearly a century is "murder your darlings." The idea is that if a particular sentence or phrase stands out in your prose, it doesn't belong there, no matter how brilliant it is.

There's disagreement about who first said "murder your darlings," but I hold to the theory that it was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), and not Nabokov or Stephen King, as often claimed, because those two have enough credits to their name, whereas Sir Arthur needs as many shout outs as he can get.

As much as I want to honor Sir Arthur, who put together no smaller a work than The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900, I do not follow this advice.

Rather than murder my darlings—a phrase, a metaphor, a zinger piece of dialogue or description—I put them in storage, suspending their lives, keeping them available in their own file.

Let's face it—I don't write a lot of darlings, but if I come up with a line so good that it makes the rest of the page look bad, it's the rest of the page I should murder. I should rewrite that page so that it measures up to the darling.

Otherwise, I sink into mediocrity. Isn't that what happens when the bright stars in the world are asked to dim it down and wait until everyone else catches up? Darlings are an endangered species!

For example, I'm pretty good at sarcasm, but I find romantic/flirty/sexy scenes hard to write. Too personal? Too old-school? (Please don't say, just too old!) So, I was happy to have come up with this for "Mix-up in Miniature," and made it its own darling scene, where my protagonist, fifty-something Gerry Porter, calls her new almost-boyfriend:

I was so excited about the new dollhouse, I needed to share my delight. I called Henry.

"I'm on my way to see Alexandra Rockwell," I said through the Bluetooth device clipped to my car's sun visor. "I'm passing right by your street."

"Why would you do that?" Henry asked.

"Remember I mentioned we want her to donate a dollhouse to the bookmobile auction? Well, she agreed!"

"I meant, why would you pass by my street?"

I gulped and felt a blush coming on. "I can stop at your house on the way back."

It's not always possible for me to do justice to the occasional darling I come up with. That's when I extract the darling, put it in its own file, and continue on the middle road.

Sometimes, late at night, I take a phrase from DARLINGS file and work with it. I might use if for a whole new story, or a blog, or a novel. Then, guess what, a new darling will appear, and I'll have to take it out and put it in its own file and …

I'm in a loop.

But I believe this loop is what makes me a better writer now, as I write my 18th and 19th books, than I was with the first one.

And speaking of darlings, I wanted to share the little house I put together for the Left Coast Crime auction last weekend. Note the crime scene in the living room!

As writers, what do you do with your darlings? As readers, do you notice darlings?

I hope I've helped save a darling!


Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Happy Easter, Camille! Glad to have you here again.

Chrystle Fiedler said...

I love tiny things! Thanks for visiting with us!

Linda O. Johnston said...

Hi, Camille. Welcome! I consider computer files with extra and unused material a good way to save those "darlings" that can't continue to stand out in my stories because they don't fit. Those files sometimes come in handy later on.

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks Joanna and Linda - it's great to be starting Easter among friends, old and new!

I hope to meet you, Chrystie!

Camille Minichino said...

I should add that Joanna put in double duty getting my images up . . . very patient and persevering with a lame attachment.

Betty Hechtman said...

Hi Camille, so nice to have you on our blog again. I love the doll house crime scene. I bet it was a big hit at LCC.

As for darlings - I'm working with one now in the first book in m new series. Let's just say I'm doing a lot of rearranging to keep it in.

Congrats on the new book!

Mollie Cox Bryan said...

Thanks for visiting us! My daughters are drooling over that dollhouse. As for editor catches them every time. I never argue with him because I feel like I'm too close to my own writing to see it clearly. Later, I can see that he's always been right. Have a Happy Easter!

Camille Minichino said...

Hi Betty, I missed you at LCC -- maybe Malice?

And Mollie, aren't we lucky to have sharp editors! My experience is the same during that copyedit phase.

Betty Hechtman said...

Camille, I'd hoped to go to LCC, but I am going to Malice. It will be great to see you.

Ellen said...

I leave the darlings in. It may never have a chance at publication otherwise. Besides, darlings are part of my writing style.

Hurrah for another book in your quiver!

Camille Minichino said...

I'll bet your darlings have a lot of company , Ellen!

Monica Ferris said...

As an author, I see darlings where perhaps non-authors don't. I treasure the telling phrase, the felicitous description I come across in books and short stories. But I agree, a phrase or sentence that is so outstanding it makes the rest of the page shabby or dim by contrast should come out. I've killed some darlings of my own in the past. I like Camille's suggestion that they be saved in a file for future use or inspiration.