Elmore Leonard, purple prose, Revision, slow passages, Stephen King, Toni Lopopolo, Writing

Want to Write Better? Kill Your Darlings

The first time I heard the saying “Kill your darlings,” was when writing boot camp instructor, Toni Lopopolo, held up an 8×12 poster with a big slash over the words. The words originally came from Sir Arthur Quiller Couch:

‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’

William Faulkner paraphrased the quote to:

                                                       “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

Stephen King, yes that SK, reiterated this advice in his book “On Writing.” The use of KYD is one of the first things he recommends after a first draft. To get to a second draft  he suggests cutting the first one by 10%. You can easily start with KYD.

And last but not least, Elmore Leonard’s take on this:

         ” …kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” 

Darlings are those beautiful bits of prose, a character, or setting that you just love. It can be a wonderful turn of a phrase, an insightful nugget of wisdom, a character, unique adjectives or adverbs. Sounds so precious, right? In and of themselves they sure do, but alas, they don’t fit in the story. They’re filler words, setting, dialogue, or characters. 

                            The words aren’t there to fulfill word counts- every word must count.

It’s important not to get so attached to these scenes or dialogue that you can’t bring yourself to cut them for the sake of the overall story. Another piece of advice that Stephen King and many other authors give: put your first draft away for 4 to 6 weeks then look at it with fresh eyes and mind. After some distance you may recognize the KYD’s that snuck into your draft. 

The KYD’s to look for are: 

  • Ineffective Dialogue: it rambles, is dull, makes small talk, or enters the rabbit hole
  • Telling: there is so much narrative there are blocks of black-show don’t tell
  • Purple Prose: flowery, fifty dollar words when simple, straightforward is enough
  • Slow passages: another ramble and the reader yawns or skips-slows pace
  • Characters: who don’t further the plot or is unimportant to story
  • Verb/Adverb combo: too many results in weakened writing-go for the strong verb
When you find these intruders….Kill ’em. 
If you want to show some mercy, then cut and paste them onto a document you title “Sneaky B’s,” or other such reminder. You may want that evicted character you worked on for months to go in another story. That beautiful or dark setting may work somewhere else. 

I know this is a difficult thing to do. If you can’t bear to KYD’s, have someone you trust read and wield the red pen. It’s only red ink, not blood, you can take it. 

How do you KYD’s? I’m interested to know since I have two MS’s in revision and I’m giving myself a deadline.  

Anne Lamott, Books, El Leonard, Encouragement, Lopopolo Literary, Michele Serros, Natalie Goldberg, Sandra Cisneros, Sol Stein, Stephen King, Wisdom, Writing, writing tips

Bargain hunting for the writer who’s just starting out

“Just write,” is not the only advice a writer needs. In the two years I’ve been writing I think I’ve spent many pretty pennies on writing books, a couple of one day conferences, and a boot camp for writers.

Before I purchase any books I do the ‘look inside,’ preview of writing books listed on Amazon.com and then I review customer reviews. If I can’t find the book I want at the public library or there is so much good stuff in the book that I’d take notes for days, then it becomes a purchase.(I read Writer’s Digest and Writer at the library for four months in a row before I sprung for a subscription to one of them). I found a couple of the books I wanted at Borders and used a 30% discount coupon (Stephen King/Sol Stein) or found them at a used book store (Anne Lamott) or check this out, I found Elmore Leonard’s ’10 rules’ at the 99 cents store. I borrowed Natalie Goldberg’s “Getting Down the Bones.”

One day conferences are generally cheaper than 3 day ones and my rule is I don’t spend more than $75, lunch included. Santa Barbara has an annual Women’s Literary Festival womensliteraryfestival.com and LA has quite a few similar type venues.I’ve been able to hear from author’s Lisa See, Reyna Grande, and Jennifer 8 Lee, among many others. Lucky for me I live within 45 minutes of LA and Santa Barbara so this expands my ability to attend book readings and presentations of other authors, usually free of charge. Two of my favorite writers, Sandra Cisneros, presented at UCSB and Michele Serros at a local community college.

Now for the expense, but remember it’s worth it. I enrolled in my first boot camp for writer’s in October of 2010. It is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a great smack in the butt if you want and need it. After that 3 day session I kicked my writing into gear and finished the manuscript I’d been working on for a year. Better than that I acquired a literary agent from the contacts I met at the camp. I have another boot camp next month, this time for ‘advanced writers.’ I’m taking my second partially completed MS to that one http://lopopololiterary.com/

Bottom line, it’s been worth it. I think of it as the tolls I pay on the road to becoming a better writer. I take as many free and low cost side highways as possible but I also shell out the bucks for classes that are recommended and I see as critical to moving my writing to the next step. Now if only all of these tolls were tax deductible.

Anne Lamott, Authors, Books, books on writing, fiction, Inspiration, Renni Brown, self editing, Sol Stein, Stephen King, Writing

Some Books on the Craft of Writing

Stephen King quote on writing
Stephen King, “On Writing.”
     On one of my early writer’s groups retreats, our group leader brought in the book “On Writing,” by Stephen King. I’m a horror wuss so I don’t read or watch horror material, the lasting effect of seeing “The Exorcist,”  when I was a teenager. My horror prejudice worked against me, I had never read King’s book, “On Writing,” published in 2000.
     During our free time at the retreat I picked up the book and skimmed through the first part which talked about his early attempts at writing, the rejection letters, and his problems with drugs and alcohol. I don’t believe the latter was the result of the former. 
     Section Two contains the practical advice on the craft of writing. He gives tips on idea development, characters, editing, and the use of adverbs (stay far away from them). Now this was helpful, he gives his original version of “The Hotel Story,” and then he shows his revisions. It’s a good book that gives an interesting story about a very interesting writer.
     King recommends “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It’s been around so long that there is a 50th Edition; it’s sometimes called the bible for good writing and all things grammar. It’s written in a direct no holds barred style. If you were lucky enough to have a good English teacher then you probably used this book in high school or college. It’s a keeper. 
     Now, between the styles of King and S&W you’ll find Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” She starts giving you good advice right in the beginning. She quotes her father telling her 10 year old brother, who is lamenting about a project he procrastinated on, to take it “bird by bird.” Start small and take it one piece at a time. 
     Ms. Lamott has a sense of style and wit that makes for easy reading even though she does give you assignments in the book. A valuable contribution, that I often thought of when I worked on my first novel, is “Shitty First Drafts.” I read that chapter and thought ‘hot damn,’ she (a famous author) has given me permission to have a crummy first draft. I can write several pages (really only two-it’s the Virgo in me) before I felt the pull to self edit. Her perspective on character and plot are interesting and well worth reading.
     The last two books are what I should have purchased before I began writing. I could have saved time, stress,and premature, and embarrassing, submission to a writer’s class. The first book is “Sol Stein on Writing,”by who else but SS and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Brown and Dave King. There is just too much information to tell you about Stein’s book, it’s over 300 pages but oh so worth reading. Mine is dogeared, highlighted and sprouting pink and green Post-It Page Markers. “Self-Editing,” is valuable reading and re-reading. The chapter on Point of View, which I struggle with, is smudged with my fingerprints, and tears. 
     I’ve read a couple of more books on writing: James Frey’s (not the one that was on the big O) “How to Write a Damn Good Novel,” and one of my favorites (from the 99 cents store) “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.” It has great illustrations and was a fantastic buy. 
     Whatever you find on the craft of writing, the point is to read, read, and then read some more until you find a book that is understandable, memorable, and hopefully bargain priced. Or you can go to your next writing group and swap or trade books. Someone might have the 2000 Stephen King “Book on Writing,” and is willing to swap, after all the 10th Anniversary Edition just came out in July 2010. Or you can treat yourself and buy your own.