Sunday, 24 January 2016

Some darlings matter more than others.

I've just escaped from the Ecuadorian jungle. I say 'escaped' as it makes it all sound more adventurous. In fact I was with an organised tour - but it was still something of an expedition: a flight from Quito, bus ride, then two hours in a fast boat down the Napo river, and then a walk (over an hour) through the jungle to the lodge. Not a trip for the faint-hearted. (It is possible, when water levels are higher, to get there by canoe down small creeks and waterways.)

I was in the upper Amazon basin. And the diversity, of plant, tree, bird, insect and mammal life is astonishing - and precious. We saw giant otters - so rare they are listed as endangered. We saw monkeys and turtles and caiman. We saw frogs and beetles and spiders (including a tarantula).

And - deep underneath all this wonderfulness - is oil. The oil companies are circling. Just one road into the jungle, they say (with its truck and belching diesel). Just a few wells (with homes for the workers, and machinery, and constant flames). At the moment the area is protected, but this is a poor country and the temptation is huge.

Which got me thinking. As writers we are told to 'murder our darlings'. To highlight all that stuff we've grown unreasonably attached to and press the delete button. Only when we've done that can we make a reasoned assessment of our writing, to discover that which is working and weed out the dross.

All very reasonable. But what if our darlings - without our realising it - are treasures? What if we give in to the pressures of all those 'tips for writers' that proliferate on Twitter? What if we turn our backs on something wonderful on the basis that we can make more money writing twaddle?

None of which implies that our darlings might be wonderful. But if they matter to us they need to be treasured in some way, if only to remind ourselves that we can do this. In the same way that this wonderful jungle needs to be protected from the greed of the oil companies - but this time all our lives may depend on it.

8 comments:

Sandra Horn said...

Thank you, Jo. If we did murder our darlings, we'd all be sitting on our own in the dark, wondering where all the glory went. I'm not even sure it's good advice for writers, either, but we need to fight for the things we love.

Susan Price said...

I think, like the advice to 'Only write about what you know,' it's advice that's often shallowly understood and misapplied.

We can all of us become so close to our work that we can't 'see' it, and so become defensive over some aspects of it that aren't actually working. That's the time to put it aside for a goodish while and come back to it fresh.

But, as writers, I think we all have an inner sounding board. we know when a part of our work resonates from that board and sounds true, and it's those parts we have to defend even if others dislike them.

I also know, from my own experience, that there are characters and scenes that I've kidded myself about, knowing that they aren't working but not wanting to give them up. Those are the darlings we have to kill.

How do you tell the difference? - Experience.

But the above doesn't apply to the bio-diversity of the Eduadorian jungle and elsewhere! That we have to defend all the way.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

A very thought provoking post. And essentially, I agree with Sue's comment. The problem is, these days, that there is so much advice online, and on the whole, the more confidently and loudly it is given, the less experienced as a writer the person giving it tends to be! Sometimes, I've found that there is nothing wrong with those 'darlings' except that they belong in a different story or novel or play. So I've hoarded them and used them later on.

JO said...

Thank you all for joining in. Internet connections are a bit wobbly over here, but that feels a small price to pay for preserving the diversity. And my darlings - I also horde them in a secret file. Someone might love them, one day.

Lydia Bennet said...

It's harder to keep your darlings when you've given them plastic surgery over and over til you realise they look like Frankenstein's monster and get shot of them though... it's almost impossible to be objective about one's own work, but then nobody who reads it can be objective either! Your adventures sound fab, shame the wobbly wifi hasn't allowed a few pics of the critters you've seen - do post some on fb when you get the chance please!

Reb MacRath said...

Those who lack a particular gift--for metaphor, for instance, or dazzling turns of phrase--are rabidly eager to tell us that all writing should be stripped of such. Poppycock. Eliminating all adjectives and adverbs and tropes is simply a coward's way of reducing the chances of error--like always, always, always using the word 'said'. Lawrence Sanders always knew exactly where to have his main character 'thunder'.

Lovely post, Jo. Thank you.

Gill James said...

I never actually murder them - I just cut them out and put them somewhere else. They might come in useful ... or even stand alone.

Umberto Tosi said...

... and what if our darlings conspire with our bathwater babies to come back and murder us? Just a thought. :)