Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Conversation About Killing Your Babies

"Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it -- whole-heartedly -- and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings." - Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

It was probably one week into Swanky MFA Program when I heard my professors tossing around this phrase. Students too! "Yeah, I'll most likely cut it. Kill your babies, and all."

So I, without having a clear grasp on the phrase, took it to mean that one should not get so attached to their writing. That one must relinquish those pesky ego-blinders that keep one from seeing when something just isn't working. Edit, edit, edit. 

Alas, I was wrong, though not terribly. The problem with your Witty Darlings is that they distract the reader, pulling them out of the "fictive state" or a state of absorption in the book. Still, when I found the original meaning of the phrase I decided to wholeheartedly disagree with it, to an extent (yes, yes, just play along). 

Me: Linn, let's have a lengthy and snootish discussion on the craft
Linn: Here here! ::waving her arm in a toast::
Me: I do not think that authors or editors should murder anyone's babies. Here's why: the moment at which one individual engages in the "fictive state" versus another differs. So, it is logical to conclude that the moment at which one disengages differs as well. It could be any old arbitrary verb, or a noun that does it. Plus there are birds. And music. And various other distractions that force the reader to disengage. Why shouldn't a phrase that makes you look up and say, "Daaaaamn, this author can write" have such a privilege too?  
Linn: Well - 
Me: I'm not done...So as I was saying, and what about the collective consciousness? I mean, if all authors just tossed out their finest moments, aren't they collectively a) dumbing down their words, b) catering to the lowest common denominator, and c) restraining both readers and writer AND humanity from achieving a higher standard of intellect when it comes to reading and writing?
Linn: Yes, well, I've certainly had to murder many authors' darlings, but sometimes it needs to be done. Frequently, that glorious turn of phrase occurs at an inopportune moment, acting as a red herring. 
Me: Ain't that a bust? When the muse touches you just as your protagonist is, like, brushing their teeth? Inspiration is a bi-
Linn: -bieautiful. A beautiful, beautiful thing. 

There we have it readers, no conclusion as of yet, but throw in your two cents. Do you murder your babies? Or do you let them stand as beacons of glory-be, shiny pennies in a fountain for the the muses still doing their muse-y thing?

Happy ummm, murdering?
Amy Hayden

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