Writing Wednesday: Killing Your Darlings

Last week, after a string of awful nights, I decided to write a children’s story. The fun I had writing this little story did not make up for the exhaustion and aggravations of the previous week, but it helped. As I rhymed my way through verses about dogs, roosters, mosquitoes and various other midnight misadventures I even found myself laughing.

My 2nd favorite line was the one about wishing all the roosters would die, but my absolute favorite line of the whole piece came at the end of the stanza about mosquitoes.

It’s 4, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
She hears a buzz, the mosquito trademark
Little legs brush her cheek like lace
She swipes, misses, and hits her own face
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, eight hundred… [beep beep beep beep]

As I wrote this last line I was thinking about the sorts of things that I feel tempted to say every time I’m woken up by one of those little winged demons in the middle of the night.

I intended the “beep beep beep beep” to be a stand-in for language that is, uh, slightly salty. I found the image of Mama Bear unable to get back to sleep and lying there swearing at the mosquitoes was enormously, therapeutically, funny.

Except… no one else got it (at least, not that I know of). Everyone I’ve asked said they thought those beeps were an alarm clock.

Don’t you hate it when your favorite line just doesn’t work outside your head???

Samuel Johnson is reputed to have said, “Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I know I have been guilty (and probably will be again) of working entirely too hard to keep lines and scenes that I like even when they do not serve the overall story well. I have also been known to be petulant and resistant when told that lines and phrases I particularly like are not communicating what I want them to say.

I often need a lot of time and distance (more than I generally like to allow) to work up the dispassionate editorial eye that tells me when I need to “kill a darling”. I’m slowly getting better at this, but I’m not sure it’ll ever come easily.

As for my children’s story… I don’t quite know what to do. I could change the last line of that mosquito stanza to [beep &*$ @(*! beep] or the more elegant [bleep bleep bleep bleep] which may better convey my original intent. Or I could leave it alone and accept the fact that my genie has purposed for good (or, at least, clean) what I purposed for evil (or, at least, naughty).

What do you think I should do about the kids story? And how do you figure out when you need to “kill a darling”. How difficult do you find that?

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11 responses to “Writing Wednesday: Killing Your Darlings

  1. I thought the euphemism was clear, but bleeps probably would have removed any doubt. You could even give it an old-school cartoon touch by making it, “Bleepity-bleep bleep bleep….” 🙂

  2. I thought it was the innocent arrival of the alarm clock after a night of sleeplessness – I like it has a double meaning (depending on the innocence of the reader?!?!?). Keep it as it is.

  3. Leave it, I totally got it! Love it. It’s fine as it is and it’s okay for readers to take some license with your works, you can still enjoy the original intent and every else can find the humor in it too, I knew JUST what you meant, so leave it the beep beep alone 🙂

    • Ha! Coming from you this made me laugh until I almost peed my pants (although, I should probably note that that particular point of hilarity is reached sooner and more often since Dominic’s arrival than before) 🙂

  4. Beeps win

  5. I got the meaning and thought it was very funny. You should leave it ! 🙂

  6. I belonged to the alarm clock camp, too, but think it is funny both ways.l

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