Dropped Pebbles is proud to present its first guest blogger, Sara C. Snider! Stick around and see what this talented and passionate writer has to say about…
Murdering Darlings and the Five Stages of Grief
As writers, we’ve all heard the adage, “murder your darlings” or, “kill your darlings”. The former phrase was first written by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (http://bartelby.org/190/12.html) in the early 20th century, and the latter by William Faulkner. The original quote refers to not being overly ornamental in style in one’s prose. That style should serve the text, and not the author’s ego.
It’s good advice, but the saying has, through the years, I think, taken on a variety of meanings. When I first saw the quote, I took it rather literally, and thought it referred to killing your characters if that’s what was needed. In some cases, that might be true. In my case, however, it means something else.
You see, the book I’m currently writing has a prologue that my editor tells me I should cut. “It doesn’t really add anything to the story,” he says. Other than a bit of text at the end of the book that refers to the prologue (which is also easily removable), cutting it wouldn’t affect the story at all. The news, while not totally unexpected, breaks my heart.
I say it wasn’t unexpected because I had spent some time thinking about the prologue and had actually come to the same conclusion. In regards to story, it technically wasn’t needed. But it contributed to the story by giving it emotional depth (yes, this is what I told myself).
My prologue has a very special place in my heart. It was born out of emotion, this feeling I had deep down that I managed to express, somewhat, through words in a coherent fashion. I knew the prologue before I knew the story and without it, I doubt the story would have ever followed. I owe my now near-finished novel partly to the prologue. I owe my journey as a writer to it. It was the first thing I dared to write down, feeling insecure and like an imposter, not yet ready to call myself a writer. It helped me get to the road I am now walking, a road on which I now know I belong and I cannot imagine being anywhere else. This is what my prologue means to me, and now I need to cut it.
I’ve spent the past several months coming to terms with the idea. I know, intellectually, it’s for the best. But emotions govern themselves, and mine have not been as quick to accept as my mind. During the process, my feelings would shift and it struck me that my swings seemed rather similar to what I’ve heard of as the five stages of grief. A quick Google search confirmed it. So, I thought I’d share with you my own journey in mourning my very own “darling”.
This list is pulled from Psych Central’s article “The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief.” (http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/000617) The context is largely for the loss of a loved one, as in a person, but I’ve found it’s also very applicable in mourning a loved one that’s never actually drawn breath.
My own denial goes back to when it was first brought to my attention that many prologues are unnecessary, and oftentimes serve as an annoyance to agents and readers alike. This is what brought me to think about my prologue and determine if it really was necessary. As I mentioned earlier, I determined it wasn’t. Yet I kept it in anyway for “emotional depth.” I told myself that others would love it as much as I do.
For me, it wasn’t so much anger as it was defensiveness. I was actually rather appalled to find out some people had an issue with prologues (something I’ve never shared). “I’m self-publishing,” I said, “so I don’t need to appeal to agents and as for readers, well, you can’t please them all anyway.” I was momma-bear trying to protect her cub.
This is when it came to my attention that I was actually going through the stages of grief. Bargaining, for me, happened after I heard back from my editor. Now, I trust his advice, and want to follow it as much as I can, but the idea of putting my story out there without my beloved prologue just seemed… unthinkable. So I gave it some thought and asked his advice about releasing it as a short story. You know, in an effort to promote the novel. He thought the idea was interesting, but he had concerns about the prologue being able to stand on its own. Ultimately I agreed, and was back at square one in regards to cutting it.
This one threw me for a bit of a loop. I mean, sure, I’m sad about cutting the prologue, but I’m not depressed. I’m actually really quite happy. Writing brings great joy to my life, and I frequently think about how lucky I am to be doing what I love. When reading the article on Psych Central, however, this passage stood out:
The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell.
That hit home. And that, really, is where I’ve been for most of this time. I’ve known the prologue needs to be cut. I know now that I will cut it. But accepting it, completely, is hard. Which brings us to the fifth stage, one that I (possibly) have yet to reach.
This article is, in many ways, a step towards acceptance. Maybe I am already there, I just don’t know it because I don’t have that warm, glowing feeling I had hoped for. But that bit of text at the end of my book, the one and only reference in the entire novel to the prologue, has been cut and rewritten. When ready, the manuscript will go back to my editor, sans prologue. It would seem that I’ve done it; it just doesn’t seem like the victory I expected.
Part of me feels silly for caring so much. My logical side tells me I’m overreacting, and maybe I am. But writing, to me, is more than telling stories. It’s an expression of emotion, a release of the thousand tiny cuts obtained through life and the pain they inflict. It’s a celebration of the magical moments that make life so dear. It’s about connecting with others in a very fundamental, even primal, way.
“Kill your darlings.” It’s a phrase that ultimately comes down to the release of ego, the need to separate yourself from your story and let it stand on its own legs, its own merits. It further solidifies my belief that the stories we tell are greater than ourselves, and we do them a disservice by weighing them down with our own emotional baggage. It’s that desire to do right by my story that has given me the strength to cut the prologue, in hope that it will be the stronger for it.
I wish I could say with certainty that it is stronger, that the story is much tighter, better. It may very well be, but I honestly can’t tell. I’m too close to it, and my affection too emotional. My love for the story stems from the inside out. A perspective that I doubt others will share. And why should they? It’s very natural and right for the reader to see a story from the outside and work her way in. It’s our job as writers to make that journey a meaningful and enjoyable one. One that isn’t hindered by unnecessary text, because it means more to us than it ever will (or should) to a reader. Hopefully, when all is said and done, we’ll meet somewhere in the middle, and love the story for what it is, each in our own unique way.
Have you ever experienced emotional turmoil in cutting a beloved excerpt from a story? How did you come to terms with it?
Sara C. Snider is a writer who loves fairy tales, food, and all things quirky and odd. She has a bachelor’s degree in Archives and Information Science that is currently sitting on a shelf, collecting dust, as she pursues her literary dreams. Originally from California, USA, she now lives in Sweden with her long-term boyfriend and two wily cats.