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Example of 'killing your darlings' from "All You Quantum Zombies"

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If you are a writer you may have heard of the admonition "kill your darlings". Your first thought might be: "Kill off my favorite characters?!?" But, let me reassure you, this is not what this recommendation means. "Killing your darlings" is more subtle, and at times, more difficult than writing death scenes for your characters. The heart of this jocular little piece of advice has to do with examining the parts of your writing that most please you and honestly consider whether they help or hurt. It is this ability to critically examine what you like about your own writing and, by removing it, improve the overall piece.

Recently, in the final editing throws of my short story "All You Quantum Zombies" I faced such a decision. Chris Hocking, a friend and fellow writer whose advice I trust, made several suggestions that I immediately resisted. Here are the relevant passages:


It had crossed my mind that he was using fake cartridges of
some sort, or the firing pin had been filed down. I sighed and
got up, turning the old boombox on. It started up where it had
left off, playing something by The Fixx. I turned it up, and as
the lyrics 'sense the adventure' blasted out, the old man
pushed a stack of papers into the waste basket, spun the
cylinder and fired into the steel can. The gunshot was loud in
the office, but not loud enough to be heard over the drums and
synth of an '80s tune that would come to have a very different
meaning for me.

And:

A cab pulled up, stopping just past the mouth of the alley.
I briefly heard its radio blare out 'Saved by Zero'. I watched
the old man as I lifted the vial to my lips, the smell of
almonds strong in my nose, and he mirrored my motions. We
tipped the vials into our mouths and swallowed. It was bitter.

And finally:

The cab that I had seen stop at the alley mouth -- was it
only a minute or so ago? -- was still at the curb. 'Saved by
Zero' was just ending as I got into the cab and gave the cabbie
the address of my apartment.

Can you guess what he was suggesting I cut? Its probably not difficult. For you. I, on the other hand, thought: "Oh, but the references to The Fixx songs are clever! And it adds a poignancy to the decision made by the main character. I can't remove them, it works so well!" But as I thought about it, and Chris was happy to point out, these references were tied up with my experiences of the 80s, not the (far more likely) experiences of the reader.

So I "killed my darlings" and ended up the following:

It had crossed my mind that he was using fake cartridges of
some sort, or the firing pin had been filed down. I sighed and
got up, turning the old boombox on. The CD player started up
where it had left off, playing something popular two decades
ago. I turned it up, and as the lyrics blasted out, the old man
pushed a stack of papers into the waste basket, spun the
cylinder and fired into the steel can. The gunshot was loud in
the office, but not loud enough to be heard over the drums and
synth of an '80s tune which would come to have a very different
meaning for me.

And:

A cab pulled up, stopping a little past the mouth of the
alley. I briefly heard its radio blare out another 80's song.
I watched the old man as I lifted the vial to my lips, the smell
of almonds strong in my nose, and he mirrored my motions. We
tipped the vials into our mouths and swallowed. It was bitter.

And finally:

The cab I had seen stop at the alley mouth -- was it only a
minute or so ago? -- was still at the curb. The 80's tune was
ending as I got into the cab and gave the driver the address of
my apartment.

Do I feel regret that I changed the references to The Fixx to "something popular two decades ago" and "80's tune"? Yup. Still do. But I think "killing my darlings" was the right thing to do and an improvement of the overall story.





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