Every writer will have to face this dilemma at some stage. No, not the violent dispatch of spouses or family (I’ll cover that next week, for those that are interested) but that heart-wrenching process of getting rid of those much-loved quirks and foibles of one’s writing. It might be a delightful but gratuitous chunk of prose, a pointless character to which you have developed a personal attachment or even a subplot that serves no purpose.
People, I feel your pain. As a writer who revels in using ten words where one will do, has endless pointless characters (many of whom don’t even have names) and scatters superfluous story arcs with gay abandon, I am perhaps more guilty of harbouring ‘darlings’ than the average writer. But my publisher is tolerant of such indulgences as literary excess is rather my style, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek.
But when I received this response after submitting my latest PorterGirl novel, I sensed that the days were numbered for the biggest darling of them all…
Sinister Dexter is in your voice and I don’t want to change it too much. I think the story is great and again it is character driven, you do tie your hands somewhat, writing in the first person and in the present tense…
Readers of the books and the original blog will know that I am partial to writing in First Person Present Tense which is, I know, considered to be a bit gimmicky in literary circles. When I first started writing the blog, an-almost-real-life account of my experiences as the first female Deputy Head Porter at one of the UK’s oldest and most prestigious Universities, the device worked very well. It gave an intimate and immediate account of an unusual and unique journey into the esoteric world of the academic elite and allowed me to share the inner thoughts and observations of Deputy Head Porter to great effect. For the first book, even, it still proved effective and I received positive feedback from readers who said they felt like they were with our heroine every step of the way. First Person Present Tense has become the signature style for PorterGirl and is a huge part of the quirky style and feel of the thing.
But I can’t deny, it can be a bit of a bugger at times. Firstly, most people hate FPPT. There is a danger of wandering into the realms of stream-of-consciousness type ponderings on the page. It can make character development tricky for anyone not directly engaging with the protagonist at regular intervals. It’s not that I have anything against other tenses – Who Shot Tony Blair? and my Poirot parodies are all written in Third Person Past Tense and, I can tell you, it’s a damn sight less fiddly.
The end of Sinister Dexter is set up to introduce an additional character point of view for the book that will follow. I even have a cunning ruse to extricate myself from the shackles of FPPT and move to Past Tense, should I choose to do so. With the trilogy of novels now in place, it would seem an opportune moment to take the series forward and move on from what is perhaps the most striking and recognisable aspect of the PorterGirl style.
But… is the killing of this – perhaps the biggest of darlings – a slaughter too far?
80 thoughts on “Killing Your Darlings”
Not sure if you’ll find this comment, buried as it is beneath the millions (deservedly so) of musings by your followers, but I fully commiserate with the shock of being told that your tense is not proper. It’s the second most-proffered critique of my own writing. (The first-place winner, by far? I take too long to get to the point. “Why must you spend 17 pages discussing the color of the frock worn by Duchess du Marmalade?” Because the color invoked a childhood incident involving a vengeful kumquat. I must exorcise my demons. Why can’t people understand this?) So I am with you in solidarity, brave warrior of the word. Let’s storm the castle! Or at least have tea with some of those lovely lemongrass scones…
I shall always sniff out a rogue comment – especially one written by such an eminent reader as yourself, my dear Brian! Why is it editors and the like fail to understand our delicate and unique artistic tendencies? Will they never grasp the purpose of our over-blown prose? Piffle to them, say I! Your solidarity is much appreciated. I shall put some tea in the pot and bring out the very finest scones. Only the best for us!