Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Maundering, maudlin and murder

Writers are murderers - albeit only on the page I'm quick to add.
Someone very famous (whose name I'm ashamed to add resides in that hole in my brain brought on by a dodgy beefburger) said that we should 'kill our darlings'. Stephen King - in his excellent book ON WRITING - said something very similar. Neither writing allumni were referring to going out on a bludgeoning spree to clear our homes of distraction. They were referring to the process of editing our work, and culling all those wonderful little snippets and descriptive passages that do nothing to move our story on but severely distract from the action and slow everything to a standstill. I'm guilty of over-writing (see this blog for proof!). When I first sent off my book, Dead Men's Dust, to my agent I was told, cut every last sentence from every paragraph. I quickly understood that he was correct. Just about every final sentence said pretty much what had gone before and was superfluous, or it was my attempt at a clever aside. I originally thought my clever little twists on words or attempts at cynical humour were great - my darlings - but realised they were actually dire when taken for what they were. Someone said I was trying to write like Robert Crais and Harlan Coben (which I took as a great compliment) but that I couldn't (which I took as a cold wet rag slapped across my rosy cheeks). It made me reappraise what I'd written and see the truth in those words. I'm not Crais or Coben and should have my own distinct voice. By cutting all the baggage, making my writing lean (as in skinny, not lob-sided - oops, there's one of those unfunny asides again!) I wrote a much better, much faster book. I've held on to this advice in my subsequent books, so now deliver a manuscript largely devoid of what I'd have once written.
Before delivering my MSS to my agent, I do a severe cull. before it goes to my editors there is another cull. Then when it comes back from the editor there is yet another cull (on this occasion literally as two further people had to be put to death).
But, by murdering my darlings, I think I've ended up with some fast action-packed thrillers. I'm not looking to win any prizes for literary excellence, just deliver books that will be thrilling and what a reader wants to read. They don't want to read about my darlings, so off to the headsman for them.
If you are a writer reading this and you are seeking publication, take a second look at your work. See if there's anything there that is simply you enjoying the process of writing and wallowing in just how clever you sound (like I used to) and then cut it. Re-read what you have written. I guarantee that the second version will read so much better.
Good luck.
Keep on keeping on
Matt
In the meantime...back to my writing:

It was a dark and stormy night...

2 comments:

spyscribbler said...

LOL, you make me laugh! I think I wouldn't at all mind a few of those witty asides.

I'm the exact opposite of you. If left to my own devices, my paragraphs would each be one sentence long. I keep trying flesh out things!

Matt Hilton Author said...

Hi and thanks for the comment. I get the opportunity to ramble on a bit with the blog, but for the books I have to be as lean as possible. I was influenced early on by the pulp writers - RE Howard and HP lovecraft and such - so was guilty of way too much flowery prose. Someone once described my writing as prosaic and I thought that was cool(evocing visions of poetic splendour). Then I looked up the definition of prosaic in the dictionary and found it to mean 'boring'.
There's nothing wrong in getting everything said in one line, it just means you are excellent at conveying your thoughts.
Good luck to you, I'll keep popping back to your blog when time permits.
best wishes
Matt