rule #10: kill your babies
literary babies, of course.*
i’ve just finished the revision of Another Night at the End of the World**, and this concept of linguistic murder is foremost in my mind, mainly because of its prominent implementation during this revision.
i think i’ve mentioned before that Another Night… is my most self-created book concept; it did not start as a reaction to other stories i’ve read or seen or heard, but was an entirely ground-up creation beginning in my first and only NaNoWriMo bid a few years ago. that attempt was incomplete, falling far short of the word count goal, but i discovered a pair of characters that have enchanted me and a world that has given me truly endless opportunities.
while all this is more fantastic (both definitively and connotatively) than i can adequately express — though i’m certain to try in the coming months and years*** — it has also raised a genuine concern: i like it too much.
how is that a bad thing?
well, like real irish scones and clotted cream, or pears and brie, or a salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, carrots and peas fresh from the garden, too much of anything is a bad thing.
so, too, with my writing. as it is, i tend to write far more than is necessary****, but the depth and breadth of this world i have discovered, and those of the people and places within it, are such that i am inclined to wander down every tunnel, across every ocean, and through every backstory.
am i overstating the richness and variety of this creation/discovery? perhaps.
i am not overstating my verbosity, however*****. since i find all these things fascinating, i want to write about them all. i want to share Manadan’s pursuit of the origins of the phrase “to hang noodles on one’s ears” to a long-dead food critic seeking to refute a new tax on food production; or the darkness beneath Gupti’s unflagging optimism; or how the 800-year evolutionary isolation of the gaffa on Fareh-neb played a part in Manadan’s blindness; or why anyone would bother cross-breeding a pig, a frog and a horse (seriously!).
hopefully, some of these are as interesting to you as they are to me, but the question ultimately rests upon what value each of these adds to the story. some may seem more obvious than others, such as Gupti’s background, but this first story is foremost about Manadan and i didn’t find a credible way of incorporating that information without some heavily contrived conversations that Gupti would never fall for. as such, these several pages of background had to be dropped.
others, like the origins of the noodles phrase, are clearly irrelevant and while i found them entertaining to write and still enjoy them, i had to cut them for that very reason; i was being self-indulgent, forgetting the focus and flow of the story.
still others may seem entirely irrelevant, such as the cross-breeding example, but this one actually remains in the text, not only because it’s distinctly unusual, but because it flowed naturally from the narrative and from the characters, and serves to anchor the world of the story, interestingly. at least, i hope so.
this last is not the norm, though. in most cases, i had to kill my babies. i’ve cut about 35 pages of content this way (including the first 20+ pages, which i still adore), but that doesn’t matter. the story matters; not my preconceived notions of what the story should be, but what the story becomes in the process of writing, a merging of intention and accident, creation and discovery, deliberation and mistake.
this seems a little extreme, as i read it over, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. by no means am i saying it’s the correct and proper way to do things, but for me, for right now, i can say that it has produced a much better, stronger, more interesting read.
besides, as i said earlier, Manadan & Gupti have only just begun…
* what kind of show do you think this is, anyway?
** to the deliciously dulcet flugelhorn tones of Jeff Oster’s True album – thank you, Carol!
*** yes, years. i have no doubts that Manadan and Gupti will be with me for a very long time.
**** case in point: this blog
***** is that even possible?