Friday, August 1, 2014

For the Mass Grave of My Darlings

How far will you go, what will you kill for your story?

I can be a ruthless murderer of darlings. Or so I thought. Ha. Not so fast, bucko!

I've killed off beloved characters, hacked away paragraphs of lyricism, dumped whole sections if they didn't earn their keep. Sure, I've had moments of remorse. I've even resurrected a couple of characters, only to have to re-kill them. Nothing was too sacred for my killing fields.

I've written before how, to be a good gardener, one must learn to be ruthless. In writing fiction (in any writing), it's a given. We bleed and vomit all over our first drafts, only to go back with scalpel, hatchet, or blunderbuss.

But eventually we get to an end point. Or so we think. I'd finished a first full edit with my editor, sent it back, got suggestions for the second and final edit, and, piece o' cake, bushed it up, polished the few bumps, and sent it back. One final step before proofing hard copy: beta readers.

First response from a new (to me) but experienced reader: one paragraph where she had no clue, after several readings, what I was trying to say, and several "too big" words. Only 27, out of over 91K words, but still.

I balked. I talked to my editor/publisher, who said I needed to really get that our audience for genre fiction reads at an 8th grade level. 8th Grade! No, says I, not possible. But I'm not writing literary fiction here, so why argue. Why not meet the challenge of "dumbing down" the vocabulary while conveying the same sense?

Because it goes against my nature. We should be smartening up, not dumbing down. Right?

Or do I accept that I'm not writing to teach, but to tell a good story well.

So I run my frustration past another who's read the book and has a good ear and eye. Surely, with the same background, he'll see that many of these words we learned in grade school.

Wrong.

Yeah, he said, but...

So I began going over the words with him. Simple words. Subjugate. Tenuous. Edifice.

Nope, he says. Most wouldn't know those words. I think of a recent discussion thread in an online writers' group about just this. Do we write down or not? Or is it writing down to cut out "showoff" words (and none, I thought, were showing off.) A highly regarded author has said if you're tempted to use a multisyllabic word and there's a simple, little word you can use instead, use it.

So, now it's time to murder those darlings. I didn't even know they were. I'll see them for what they are next time!

What's your take on this? I'd love to hear.