BY DENARII PETERS
Make ready your scalpel, sword or knife – even your pistol if you prefer – but whatever weapon you do choose keep it close at hand. You never know when you’re going to need it. For out there in the vast jungle of words, the enemy lies in wait. The enemy is pretty, a tempter, ever eloquent but, though it may seem impossible, this darling is out to ruin your prose.
At first, you don’t recognise the threat. The sentence is as clever as Kafka, as beguiling as Shakespeare, and as admirable as Angelou but it doesn’t belong. It’s in the wrong place. So use it at your peril. Let it remain and you will be making a ball gown when what you need is a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. You don’t select a tutu for your cross-country ride on a motorbike, now do you?
I don’t remember when I first came across the phrase, “kill your darlings”. It’s a shame I can’t give credit to the person who offered me the advice but of all the writing tips I have picked up along the way I think it is the most important. It is also the most difficult for me to implement.
Often I wake up in the middle of the night with the most incredible phrase rolling around in my head. I write it down. It looks even better on paper. In the morning it becomes the heart of a new story. It flutters against the plain English around it, a hummingbird with bright plumage, but its song is discordant. It may have been the beginning but, no matter how much it pains you to do so, you must let it fly away long before the end.
Often it is in disguise, hiding out there among all the other sentences. You mistake it, believing it to be the best part of the whole. You read the piece aloud and there it is again, standing out, proud, different. But the fact you have noticed it at all is the clue.
Sometimes you have to listen but always you must be critical. Shed your tears in private but if you want others to read your work, don’t inflict your “darlings” on the world. No one is going to appreciate them. You know they won’t.
About the Author
Denarii Peters was born in the north-west of England but now lives in the county of Norfolk. A former primary school teacher, she spends her days writing stories and drinking a lot of coffee. In the last year, she has achieved longlist or better in over 20 competitions, including two third places, one second and one winning entry (links below), which has resulted in ten of her stories being or soon to be published in various anthologies.
Links to her work: