Killing Your Darlings

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 for 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…

Hi Lucy,
 
I have just finished reading Sinister Dexter for fun, I liked it a lot and your writing is improving all the time.

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?

First Lady Of The Keys – Amazon UK     Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord – Amazon UK     Amazon US

78 comments

  1. Argh, I hate this kind of thing! Maybe it’s the novice in me, but I fully understand why people are so keen to turn to self publishing nowadays. It seems that the traditional method brings about nothing but having your work, your baby, torn to shreds one way or another. This, however, is a slight against your actual preferred method of writing. That would never do for me. Surely there has to be an element of preferred choice? This is partly why I’m so apprehensive about submitting my WIP and wonder whether I should just head straight for the self publishing avenue.

    If you do switch up your style would you go for third person omnipresent? That’s the way my novel is written.

    1. I think there needs to be a middle ground. It’s true that publishers too often want to force a manuscript into fitting the ‘right’ mould at the expense of individual expression. But writers (myself very much included) can easily be blinkered to their own rambling ego and often a compromise does tighten things up. I’m lucky that my editor is sympathetic to my personal style. The trick is finding one that really appreciates your voice.
      If I do switch up my style, it will be third person past tense – it fits better to my style of storytelling for PG. For at least one other project this year it will be third person past tense. I am undecided about one other book I am currently researching but I will certainly consider it, thank you!

    2. That’s a good mind-set. True that our own ego can often lead us down the wrong path and it can take for that neutral eye to make us aware of that. I do hope I can find an editor as helpful as yours.
      I tend to prefer past tense too, though it can be difficult to keep up with when you factor in other linked tenses, such as future in the past, etc. It presents a good challenge though.

    3. As do I. I think I often give myself more projects than my modest IQ can handle. I’m working solidly on my WIP at the moment yet still feel bad for neglecting my blog.

  2. In spite of having some (questionable) literary credentials, I like the first person present tense well enough. But I swear I’m going to sneak in some night and steal nine of your ten words.

    Or, okay, eight. I swear, they won’t be ones you need.

    1. Okay. As long as they are not eight of the important ones, I can probably live with it. I mean, someone has to tackle my bloated and rambling sentences and you, my friend, are the girl for the job!

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