Life After Death for the Darlings

Katherine Longshore 7 Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'll get to this week's topic in just a minute, but wanted to repeat the special announcement Donna made yesterday about an upcoming week on the YAMuses blog.  

We're going to feature our "reader request" week for September 3rd and we need to hear from YOU!  What questions do you have for the Muses?  What topics would you like to see covered?  Please comment on today's post (or any post this week) and mention what you'd like to discuss with us.

This week we're talking about killing our darlings.  It's such a bittersweet term, isn't it?  It smacks of infanticide and "tough love."  And that horrible sentence, "This is going to hurt me much more than it hurts you."  Or the even worse one, "It's not you, it's me."  What about the poor darlings?  What about their feelings?  What happens to them after?

I can't speak to everyone's darlings.  Donna puts hers in a coma.  Bret has a graveyard.  But what about the darlings that just can't be reused?  What about my scene with Anne of Cleves, so happy and hopeful on her triumphant (and ultimately ill-fated) journey into London as Queen?  What do you do with that?

Well, you can reuse it in a blog post, I suppose.

Or just use those darlings in a different way.  Because there is a life after death for darlings, I am a firm believer.  They may just be shapeshifters, ghosts, or reincarnations.

Let me explain by telling a story.  More than a year and a half ago, I was compiling ideas for Book 2 of my series.  Trying out and discarding historical sequences.  Skidding around the idea of historical characters.  Unsure what to settle on or how to approach it all.  Flailing a little, but happily still.  Composting, as Donna says.

I drove my kids up to see my parents for Thanksgiving.  This is a five-to-six hour journey, depending on how many times we have to stop for bathroom breaks/letting the dog out/coffee/carsickness/roadworks.  But things had settled down and the music was playing softly, the dog was snoring and the kids nearly so.  And a voice came to me (yes, just like that.) Like Joan of Arc only these weren't voices telling me what to do, this was the voice of a character.  Begging to be written.  This girl had a voice that can only be described as sassy and the comments she made about the English court and the fashion choices and over-inflated egos of some of its inmates made me fall in love with her.  This was the character I needed to write.  This character had something to say.

I pulled out my index cards at the next roadworks and jotted down some of my ideas.  Some of her observations.  Already formulating the first chapter.  Submerging the reader in her voice at the get-go.

Are you ready for this?  I never keep a first chapter.  I often write a keeper of a first chapter after the third or fourth revision.  So all those observations?  Those snappy little snarky remarks?  Gone with the darlings.

What remained was the voice.  I knew she could make those snappy comebacks.  I knew what she thought of the people around her, even if she didn't vocalize it (all the time).  I knew how she felt about her own presence at court and about the attitudes of everyone else.  All of that remained.  That voice was the true darling.  Not what she said, but how she said it.

There is life after death for darlings.  Because in this business, nothing is ever wasted.


I have found that a Coma File helps. One too many times I killed, only to be haunted by the very section I murdered, unable to completely recall all the words, mad at myself for being so hasty. Now I think twice before applying cement shoes.

I would love to hear more about the agent process, seeing as I'm right in the thick of submissions. I know it's been talked about, but it's all I can think about! Thank you as always, Muses!

Ah! A cryogenic chamber. Love the idea of a Coma File, PB.

And good luck! I've got my fingers crossed for you!

One of my crit partners likes to talk about a writer who said (and I'm paraphrasing) that you put things in, and they're good things, but they can't stay. But when you take them out, their ghosts remain to give flavor to the piece.

The horribly mixed metaphor is mine, not the poor writer's whose idea I just botched.

Love your mixed metaphor, Beth. It's like the darling leaves an after image (to mix the metaphor even more!)

Something I'd like to see the muses discuss: How has managing things in your day to day life changed due to publication and time lines for edits? I love hearing anecdotes about how you ladies (and Bret!) make it through deadlines, writers block and all other writer related stresses!

Thanks :)

You sure know how to make a girl want to read the next book! What I like about the sassy character and how she says what she wants, it gives a new life to history that we can't even truly experience, except through stories. History is never written with a sassy voice because it has to be unbiased. But finding a voice, or a muse, as it seems it happened to you on your car trip, can make history a whole new adventure.

Thanks for sharing!

Thank you for commenting, Sallie! We're working up our schedule for the next few weeks, and will be sure to include something about finding the balance (and keeping our sanity)!

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