Pruning Your Darlings

A little while ago, I wrote a longish post about not killing your darlings, i.e. just because something seems well written, just because you have fallen in love with a piece of your own prose, there's no reason for you to believe that it isn't good, and that it has to go! It's all to do with perspective. You could be right. It could be really good. In which case, you'd be mad to press that delete button.
However (there always is one, isn't there?) over the weekend, my agent sent me the manuscript of The Amber Heart, for my final approval on a few minor edits. These were almost wholly to do with punctuation, and concerned my rather loose (and disconcerting, at this stage in a long career) knowledge of exactly where commas ought to be used and where they can be left out. I thought I knew. And certainly, when I'm writing non-fiction, I don't seem to have much trouble. But I think all these years as a playwright, when I've used commas as an indication of slight pauses in the text for the actor, have made my use of commas in works of fiction just a little - erratic?
Incidentally, I pointed this out to a group of writers, a few months ago, and noticed the collective shudder that went through the room. Did you know that potential agents might make their initial sift of the hundreds of manuscripts which are dumped on their desks every week, on the strength of your knowledge of how to use the comma? So those among you who submit somewhat slapdash copy, in the belief that your wonderful writing will shine through, are plain wrong. Sorry about that. (And please don't point out errors of punctuation in my blog. I know, I know.)
Anyway, to get back to the story for those that want to read it: my new novel, the Amber Heart, is set in what is now Western Ukraine in a place that was - at the time that the story is set, i.e. the mid to late nineteenth century - part of Poland, a sort of rugged and dangerous Wild East of Poland, to be sure. The novel was inspired by some fascinating episodes from my own turbulent family history - about which I'll probably be blogging in due course.  I've been working on this one for a long, long time. It's a tale that is very close to my heart. And it has had various more or less unsatisfactory incarnations, over the years. But now, with this draft, I know that I'm telling a big story and I think I'm telling it well.
However, when I scanned the final draft, in among those commas and a few minor suggestions about the odd word usage - there was the suggestion that I cut the last few paragraphs of the whole book, because it seemed much more poignant to end it a little sooner.
And you know what? He's absolutely right.
I had become very, very fond of those last few paragraphs. I could see the scene in my mind. And I won't throw them away just yet. But when I hit the 'accept changes' button, and looked at the ending of the book, I was a bit surprised to find that it was definitely more poignant and more moving to finish it just a little earlier than I had intended and leave the very obvious ending hanging in the air. The reader is certain what has happened. As certain as I am, having written it. So certain that he or she doesn't need to be told.
It is this kind of thing that makes a very good editor and a good editor is beyond price.
Fingers and toes crossed that soon, this much loved brainchild - and I do find myself loving this story more and more - will find a publisher.

Comments

Michael Malone said…
fingers, toes crossed.
I read a book recently which recommends setting up a folder for the 'darlings' so you can recycle them. I find though that the join always shows!
Well, I do a fair bit of recycling - suppose we all do. But you're right about the join showing! Think you have to recycle into something completely different if it's going to work!
All the best with this novel, Catherine!