BryceWray.com

Murdered darlings

R.I.P., WIP

published:  April 22, 2020
 

Friends, we are gathered here on a solemn occasion. But, before I get to that, allow me to flesh out the title’s background.

Anybody who’s read more than a little bit about the process of writing fiction has seen the advice to “murder your darlings” or “kill your darlings.” There are two major misconceptions about this phrase.

First, many felt it came from William Faulkner, as “kill your darlings.” In fact, the originator of the phrase—and it was “murder your darlings”—was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in a lecture called “On Style,” reproduced in his 1916 book, On the Art of Writing: Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, 1913–1914.

Second, it’s often believed that this phrase refers to the need for a fiction writer to kill off characters, even ones the writer really likes and wants to see in a happy ending, in order to keep a story moving along. While that kind of thing certainly is necessary at times, it’s not what Quiller-Couch meant when he said:

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.

Here is the real intent of Quiller-Couch’s statement, as Lisa L. Spangenberg explains:

Style should serve the purpose of the text, not the writer’s ego. . . . if the text doesn’t serve to drive your story forward (or support your argument), if its purpose is purely ornament, then kill it.

So: kill your being-fancy-for-the-sake-of-trying-to-impress-somebody text and tell the story. That’s the true meaning of the phrase. I just wanted to get all that in here, first, for the sake of correctness.

Nonetheless . . . today’s subject is about the more commonly taken (but erroneous) meaning of “Murder [or kill] your darlings”—because I had to kill mine this week.

All of them.

If you ever get any use, or even simple reading pleasure, from reading anything on this site, I therefore ask you to observe a moment of silence in those darlings’ honor.

This site wouldn’t be here had it not been for them.

Genesis

Yes, friends, this site actually had a founding purpose.

I wasn’t just bored one day and decided to put up something on Netlify, although I certainly can appreciate how you might get that impression.

Here’s the story. So to speak.

When I launched this site in September, 2018, I was about a year into the process of writing a novel that I hoped would eventually be worthy of publication. That’s the “WIP”—work in progress—to which I’ve referred a few times since then.

The novel began as a simple story of a guy and a girl in their early twenties, two neighbors in an apartment complex in the late 1970s, as the times changed around them and they changed over a period of several months from hallway acquaintances to (apparently) platonic close friends to, at the happy ending, lovers.

However, I actually wanted this book to sell, y’know?

Figuring that story would be nice and all, yet probably not exactly a page-turner that would spark favorable reviews (and, I’d hope, decent sales), I decided to spice it up with a mystery. The nature of the mystery kept changing as I learned more about certain things: how one can perform a variety of financial misdeeds, methods of killing people without leaving any evidence, and so forth.

(Let’s just say I hope anybody who may have monitored my search history since 2017, especially at certain times, hasn’t formed the wrong impression of me. No: I do not plan to engage people in fraudulent investments; I do not have a morbid interest in the practices of medical examiners; and I most definitely do not intend to murder anybody at all, much less through a bizarre method. Okay?)

Soon, it had been nearly a year since I’d started, and I (naïvely) thought I was close to finishing—close enough, at least, that I needed to plan how to promote the book. I’d decided to self-publish through Amazon et al. and, as I researched the whole self-publication subject, one thing stuck out from the advice of those who’d done it with any degree of success: get yourself a Web site.

That’s why, in the late summer of 2018, I returned to heavier reading about a subject which had caught my eye earlier in the year as an “Oh-that-sounds-geekily-interesting” item: building Web sites with static site generators (SSGs). I then spent a couple of weekends getting everything set up and, in mid-September, brycewray.com went live for the first time. At its birth, the site had just three pages: the home page, the “About” page, and a very short initial post.

So the site was online. Now I just had to finish the frickin’ book.

Sticking point

One of the things They tell you about writing fiction is not to go back and edit. Write to the finish, no matter how bad the first draft may be, and then edit.

Unfortunately, I’m not wired that way, for more reasons (personal as well as work-related) than you could imagine. So the project dragged on through numerous efforts of rewriting, rethinking, changing the plot, moving the setting, and the like—until earlier this week.

That’s when I finally realized, after twenty months, that the characters and story had a major flaw I couldn’t heal: their creator. I’m just not a good enough writer to pull it all together into something that’s worth anybody’s time, much less anything I’d be proud on which to put my name (or even a pen name, although I never seriously considered that).

Oh, could I have finally finished something? Sure. Could I then have self-published it? Yep. But would the final product have been good enough? No.

So the WIP is dead. Long live the Web site.

Takeaways

That’s not to say I now sport a T-shirt saying, “I visited Book-writing Land and all I got was this lousy Web site.”

Quite the contrary: I throughly enjoy writing the content on this site and, as recent posts make clear, doing all the geeky stuff that keeps it running. In fact, truth be known, I like this kind of writing more, which probably has its own role in the events that led to this decision.

Still, I’m glad for the learning experiences I had while trying to write the WIP. That’s true for both the previously mentioned research I did and, especially, the writing apps I used.[1]

I’ll always retain a warm spot in my consciousness for my characters, especially the two leads. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, they’ve ended up together happily ever after, all battles fought, all enemies defeated, all futures secured.

May they ever be thus.


  1. However, this does mean an end to my use of Ulysses, my only writing app with a subscription—which runs out next month. So long, Big U. It was fun while it lasted. ↩︎

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