When we writers struggle with edits, inevitably someone will mention the phrase often (but questionably) attributed to William Faulkner, or Stephen King, or Colette, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or… You get the idea.
Whether the chosen word is murder or kill, for a slow writer such as myself, this concept can bring tears, especially when entire scenes (and the precious words that change a novel to a novella) are lost.
I’m almost ready to submit a new manuscript, but only because this week, I sacrificed my darlings.
My first page has been a years long education. I first conceived of this work as a short story. I was ready to contribute my 8,000 polished words to an anthology or anywhere else looking for short work. And then, at a conference, the acquiring agent revealed the most overused cliché in her rejection pile – the opening in a rainy cemetery. Guess where my story started. Oops. I set the manuscript aside.
I next picked up the manuscript with the “brilliant” idea of the heroine driving into town after a long absence, I layered in plot and new depth. The short story grew to novella proportions of 22,000 words. My beta readers loved the idea but one thought it started slow. Nevermind. I was ready to pitch until I was an a conference and an acquiring editor called the car ride open her instant “no.” Oops. I set the manuscript aside.
Still, I couldn’t let the story go. All through my broken arm induced writing hiatus, these characters sat with me. I expanded the story, adding subplots and conflict. I reached 56,000 words. A Novel! Almost. I still didn’t have a good opening.
I spent a week recrafting the opening chapter, and an entire day hand writing various opening sentences and more time tweaking and revising and finally, I had it.
“C.E disliked sticky mud, but grass alone didn’t give the grave the necessary freshness.”
Victory! You are intrigued and I get a cemetery. Win! Win! Win! Except the first chapter was totally wrong for the book. I scrapped it. I murdered that sentence I worked so hard on. The one that absorbed days of my time, where every word had been carefully considered and my beta readers swooned – at least until they reached the end of the second paragraph and then slogged through to the 10th page where the story actually began.
This week, I murdered some words. I have no guilt. Killing them made my heart lighter and my story better. I have a new opening sentence, one that I love and will share wide and far when the time comes.
Until then, if you are wondering what is in that grave, I’ll tell you. It’s murdered darlings.