Sunday, May 2, 2010

Kill Your Darlings

What I'm reading right now: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

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Last weekend, I attended LDStorymakers often referred to as Storymakers. From their own website:

LDStorymakers (pronounced "LDS Story Makers") started as an online e-mail group, the brainchild of best-selling author Rachel Ann Nunes. Originally called ldssmallpresswriters, our group was designed as a home for published writers who were associated with small publishers—particularly those associated with the LDS market. From the comfort of their own homes, our members could offer help and seek advice from each other, polish their writing skills, and socialize with other authors who knew the ropes.

This annual conference has become one of the most highly regarded gatherings of authors, writers, and graphic artists in the state. Although the Latter-day Saint element of the conference is still present, it is no longer solely focused on the LDS market, attracting agents and editors of major publishing houses.

I attended many fantastic workshops and panels, but the best part was networking, meeting new people in the industry and introducing them to what I have to offer. I signed up for an optional workshop called Literary Bootcamp.

I've attened bootcamps before and although they can be challenging, I question whether they measure up to the demands of actual bootcamp. What bootcamp is, is you basically put yourself at the mercy of others. You give everyone a sample of your writing to critique. At this event, we were set up in groups of 4 or 5 people, designated by genre, and each table had a published author to guide the activity. My group was presided over by the fabulously talented Stephanie Black, a terrific writer and a genuine person. Who heralds our boot camp group as "awesome."

What happened next was each of us read our work aloud while the others followed along and left feedback/critques on their copy. When it comes to this type of activity, the best way to get through it is to remember to separate yourself from the work. A critique of your work is not a critique of you, the person, even though it can be difficult to separate the two. This is something I learned years ago as a sign language interpreter. We had "activities" where we did the same thing.

Why is this so difficult? Well, often what we put down on the page are our darlings. The things we have written are the most wonderfully splended bits of prose ever to grace the page. Not only our page, but perhaps any page--hence, it is your darling. When someone shows how it is not as wonderful as we initially thought is was, well, that can be hard to take. Such activites are done with the best intent and hopefully each participant received constructive feedback on how to make the work better.

As darlings go, sometimes what we've written is in fact wonderfully clever and down-right cool. The problem arises when we go back and edit and find that a particular bit of "darling wonderfulness" no longer fits with the story. As a stand alone darling, it's still fabulous, but it no longer serves the story and as such you have to cut it, despite how poetic/lyrical/paradigm-shifting it is. It is this that is referred to as killing your darling, sometimes referred to as murdering your darling. I love the phrase and ideology so much, that I had a shirt made up:

This can lead to awkward encounters when I forget I'm wearing it and head off to the grocery store. As a phrase, it's not well known outside of writers' circles.

One other high note, during the Saturday afternoon lunch, artist/writer Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary, pulled out his sketch book and started sketching people in the audience. I was fortunate enough to be one of his subjects. He was gracious enough to give me a scan:

I was in complete fanboy-mode. He said it was no big deal as it was only a two-minute sketch. No big deal to him! To me, pretty awesome.


Jordan McCollum said...

Obviously our bootcamp group was awesome!

It can definitely be tough to kill your darlings. I'm killing whole darling scenes right now (yet again). We'll see if that's enough to make it better.

Great to meet you!

Sabine Berlin said...

So fun. I am jealous, but Germany comes first this year. Next year I am so there!

Chris Todd Miller said...

Sabine, you do see how this situation is instantly reversable? Germany! So jealous. However, I can't say that next year I'll be where you are!

The Damsel In Dis Dress said...

Awesome photo. You're a scary, scary man. :)

Marion Jensen said...

Yeah, I bought one of Dan Wells' "I Am Not a Serial Killer" T-shirts. There just aren't that many opportunities to wear that in public.

Chris Todd Miller said...

Matthew, I hear ya! As a side note, I'm about 2/3rds the way through Dan's book - I am Not a Serial Killer.

Sharon Bially said...

Now I see that T-shirt! Great coincidence! I'm sending the link to Jenna Blum.

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