Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Kill Your Darlings," says Stephen King

I began last week’s post with a reference to King’s nonfiction book about writing: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. In it, King offers his own take on Arthur Quiller-Couch’s advice:

"Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings." (Stephen King)

Photo by Al Griffin

King applied his murderous advice to flowery prose passages, to self-conscious applications of rhetorical devices. He meant that writers should not deploy tropes for the sake of appearing gifted. Writers should write in patterns and with language that jars the imagination, appeals to the ear as much as the mind, and sometimes is quite plain and as common as conversation.

In his latest novel, Mr. Mercedes (2014), King kills one of my darlings, an adorable character, a love interest, and the possibility of a future less burdensome. Like Annie Wilkes, I’d like a word with the author.

But I get it. Ideals are ethereal. Love is rarely easy or kind. Heartache is the more natural state and a powerful inspiration when one has some terrible work to finish.

So kill your darlings may also apply to beloved characters. After all, nothing gold can stay, can it?

Reading Challenge:

Read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Mr. Mercedes.

Writing Challenge:

Re-read an essay or piece of fiction authored by you. Be ruthless. Execute your darlings, your phrases and felicitous expression much beloved. Now how does the passage read?