Lots of people have gotten credit for the literary adage advising writers to kill their darlings. In fact it was Arthur Quiller-Couch. I think. Anyway, the exhortation is important because it acknowledges how scribes sometimes become overly attached to “ornaments” of their own creation.
As your piece evolves, plot twists and descriptions may no longer serve you. Characters, too, may overstay their welcome. Even really, really good ones. (Move along. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?) The positive news is that when you cut something from your current work, you don’t have to actually vaporize it. Instead, relocate it to a climate controlled warehouse to be revisited at a later date.
My novelist mom introduced me to this concept back in the day and though it was a very complicated maneuver at the time (early word processors were tetchy as hell and obliterated reams of content during attempted procedures) it’s now far easier to reposition a questionable protagonist (and all evidence of him from his brand of light cigarettes to annoying catch-phrases) than say, an evangelizing missionary clutching a stack of religious tracts, from your front porch.
My mother called this file The Dump. Which I found unappealing. So I upgraded the concept. And even though I sometimes imagine it as a huge cupboard with disorientated characters stumbling around in confusion; other times I think of it as a well-organized warehouse where everyone and everything is easily accessible and in its place.
In this ideal, someone would spend a magical afternoon listening to music and labeling the file’s contents (descriptions of nature, neighborhoods, archetypes of carpool participants) cross-referencing subject matter for easy employment. I’ve heard this type of organization is possible.
The Closet should be revisited and perused on the reg. You never know when the perfect spot may open up for a particular observation, chunk of witty repartee or sleazy sidepiece with long term designs on other peoples’ boyfriends.
Just be sure to move the section out of circulation altogether (ie. cut—don’t copy!) so as not to end up reusing the same brilliant verbage more than once. Which can be done. (Trust me.)
As an inveterate thrift store shopper let me just say opening the file can provide the same rush. Happy salvaging!
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