Darling, I have to kill you….

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When I first started writing fiction, I had a penchant for overly detailed descriptions. In one story, I included a scene set in a tearoom. I described the table cloth and the centerpiece, the china and the stemware, the curtains and the chairs. So vivid were the details, I was sure I’d painted a perfect picture in words. I wanted the reader to smell the fresh red roses, visualize the hand-painted lilies on the tea cup, touch the delicate lace on the pink tablecloth, and envision the pattern of the cut glass water goblets.  Who wouldn’t have wanted to be right there in that tearoom, sipping Lemon Delight tea and feasting on tiny sandwiches and petit fours?

I sent the story to the wonderful editor/mentor with whom I was working and patiently waited for her critique.

At last it arrived. To my dismay, she had circled the entire paragraph and boldly penned: “You need to kill your darlings!” She explained that I’d gone overboard in my descriptions. I needed to take most of them out. Cut, cut, cut. I should kill my darlings! Delete ALL those beautiful descriptions. My darlings!

Painful, yes, but it was the right thing to do. A reader would have been bored to tears (or sick to her stomach) if she had managed to read even half of the tearoom description.

I still tend to over describe. One of my critique pals is kind enough to point this out. She has advised me to kill my darlings in several works, and she was correct.

I’m currently trying to place a flash fiction story. In a piece fewer than 750 words, every word counts. Each sentence has to move the story forward. There’s no room for fluff.

In one section, I wrote about a woman checking out items on a dresser in a friend’s guest bedroom. My critique partner said, “Would she notice all these details?” And I had to review it with a critical eye and conclude, “No.”  The woman would notice everything on the dresser, but she wouldn’t think of the objects as I’d described them. She wasn’t admiring the items as tasteful and lovely; she was up to no good.

So I cut the descriptions down to bare bones. In the first draft, I’d written: “Pale amber perfume shimmered in a crystal bottle.” It now reads: “A crystal bottle held perfume.” Much cleaner and tighter, the new sentence expresses my character’s POV.

I know that the term “Kill your darlings” is frequently used by editors. I understand what it means. But will I ever learn? Will I ever deny entry to those darlings in the first place? I’ll try harder.  I need to be a little more ruthless in my work. Well, a lot more ruthless.

Darlings, I hate to see you go, for you were charming and beautiful. You sparkled. You made me smile. But you were bringing me down, and I’m better off without you.

Goodbye, Darlings.


About joyackley

I am a published writer living in sunny Florida. I share a home with my three spoiled cats. I am mother to two wonderful daughters, and I am grandmother to Sam, Jackson, and Elin.
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8 Responses to Darling, I have to kill you….

  1. territiffany says:

    I have the opposite problem. I started writing very short stories. its hard for me to give detail.

  2. joyackley says:

    In a short-short story, you have to be careful not to overdo the descriptive details. Sometimes less is more.

  3. linda byak says:

    Ok, I don’t know a thing about being an author, but I do know this. I love your writing. I love your humor. You often make me giggle. 🙂

  4. I’ve been accused to being too vague because I get caught up in the emotions and trying to create the perfect mood through metaphors. That can get a bit confusing for most writers. But it’s something I struggle with, that and creating a protagonist readers fall in love with fast. Generally, it takes them a while.

    Thanks for visiting my blog, Joyce. That was a nice surprise.

  5. Oh, hear your pain! I over describe everything. I blame reading Zane Grey and Emilie Loring who are apt to over do everything. But Iove it! But yes, it’s probably best to cut down on all the excess, though you do wonder if the reader will get out of it what you are trying to describe. Probably not, but then, I doubt I imagine any of the books I read like the author intended. I like how you included the Stephen King image. His book, On Writing, told me to kill my adverbs. But I love my adverbs, I wail at anyone who will listen. I overuse adverbs, and incorrectly half the time as well.

  6. joyackley says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Yes, it is difficult to trim the descriptions and details. I’m getting better at it, but sometimes it is painful. I try to use the adverbs sparingly, but I do use them sometimes.
    Stephen King’s book, On Writing, is such a great resource. I’ve misplaced my well-worn copy, but maybe I’ll run across it someday in this mountain of clutter in my office corner.
    I appreciate your comments. 🙂

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