Ben stared me down with those eyes and told me he doesn’t like flowers.
‘That’s okay, Ben,’ I smiled. ‘You don’t have to like flowers. So. What do you like, then, hey?’
You see, we’re all different, but Ben’s different from even the most different of us.
Ben isn’t broken.
In fact, Ben hardly knows me, and yet every week he puts my bins out without me even asking him to. He sits on the porch and watches the birds drift as I tug at the weeds and silently curse into the garden beds. He grabs the lawnmower cord and yanks it with one hundred percent confidence that this is one thing he does know how to do.
If you’re a reader, you are about to read a blog post which will echo through the pits of your soul. It’s not a problem, we all know this. But whenever us readers are faced with this sort of conundrum, there is definite…friction would be the best way to put it, in my mind.
Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while will already know that I am blowing this issue (the one I’m about to tell you about) up to be something it absolutely is not, creating drama where none is needed, creating blockage when there probably is a clear path that I just can’t see yet.
But the thing is: this feels big. Like a pickle. And when something feels like a pickle to me, I will set my brain to work until it has come up with a logical solution that will bring me peace and clarity and a bin (you know, a bin to throw the pickle into.)
What is the pickle, you ask? Books, that’s what. I’ve started reading three books that are wonderful…and I’ve started them all at the same time. The pickle is this, and the pickle is also the fact that I’ll not finish any of them at this rate.
I won’t go into the details about each book but I will say that each is illuminating, genuine, inspiring, and each has a very clear reason to be read by a bookish dreamer named Brooke at this point in her life.
How do I choose which one to plow on with? Surely it’s an essential question, like asking myself: should I brush my teeth, have a shower, sleep, eat? You’re laughing aren’t you. You’re laughing because you’ve been here before, but currently you’re not so it’s kind of like you’re looking back upon a distant nightmare set in a far-off land.
But for me, it’s here. It’s now. And I’ve got to DO something, I’ve got to get TOUGH.
I’ve got to put two of the books away. When it comes down to it, that’s just what I’ve got to do, isn’t it? One at a time. I will not find un-friction until I make a choice, and the time has come for me to make it—to choose the apple, the orange or the pear.
What a bookishly frantic conundrum. What a pickle of the totally me kind.
And, for the first time in a good little while, I am at a cafe, sinking into a booth seat, quietly reflecting on the peace of it all.
I’m the soft girl today. She’s the part of me that I choose—quite fiercely so—because the soft girl is anything but soft. She’s gentle and kind, and yet she’s capable and strong. And she’s safe, the part of me that feels most like ‘home’.
She made me buy a book, today, the soft girl did. It’s beautiful. A paperback, with a silvery-white cover and the title: Women Who Run With The Wolves: Contacting the Power of The Wild Woman, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. A quote from Maya Angelou decorates the bottom. It says: ‘Everyone who can read should read this book.’
The book had whispered to me from the shelf—or, perhaps the soft girl had whispered me to it, I can’t be entirely certain. And even though it was only visible via the spine, I plucked it quickly from its little cave and read the blurb.
I wasn’t going to buy a book. It wasn’t on my radar, not at all. But as soon as I read what this beautiful, silvery book was about…the soft girl touched me and began whispering me her careful words: ‘This book will change your life.’
I bought it. It sits beside me, in my laptop bag, waiting for me to breathe it in— which I will do tonight, as soon as I have found a cup of steaming tea and a nice big blanket.
I suppose it might be a wonderful book.
And, if it is, if the whispers of the soft girl were true in all their wistfully tender encouragement…my life is about to change.
I’ll be honest with you. I-am-cranky. There. I’ve said it.
And now I don’t even know what words are going to end up in this sentence because my fingers are just banging away without me even thinking, without me even caring about what comes out of this cranky mind of mine.
In the spirit of maintaining some of the glass half fullness that I believe to be a more accurate representation of me, I thought I might take this opportunity to gather in my little nerdy corner and make the most of this mood. To close my eyes. To breathe. To think all the lovely nerdy thoughts. And to have a little nerdy party.
You guys wanna come? We could hang out in the corner for a while, have a little chat about how language and tone indicate mood in a piece of writing? More specifically, we could analyse some little pieces of cranky me above, and try to dissect and plump up some of my cranky, writerly ways? (Omg. Fun, huh?)
Yes! Let’s DO this!
I suppose there were a few indications at the start of this little post of mine that may have given cranky me away.
Readers (ahem, humans) are creatures of habit, tradition, and pattern
In my experience, the sentence I’ll be honest with you often leads to something negative. So, even though the words themselves might seem kind of innocent—depending on the context in which they are being used—in this case, we all knew what I was really saying. (Hint.I am cranky!)
Example: ‘Omg, Brooke. I’ll be honest with you. These nerdy parties of yours are such mega buzz kills.’ (Sure, you guys. I know you secretly love them. Wink face emoji.)
Impact. Start with a bang
In fact, if I was really serious about bringing a reader into my cranky world, I’d have completely chopped out the I’ll be honest with you, and gotten straight to the point:
I-am-cranky. Boom. Like a punch in the face.
Imagine if that was the first sentence? Right away the reader would have been invested in my story. They’d have been curious. By starting with the words, I-am-cranky…I may have raised their eyebrows, a little. I may have prompted them to say, ‘But Brooke. Tell us why!’
Sentence length and flow
Humans really are creatures of symbolism and expectation, don’t you think? We often learn cool tricks without really even being aware we are doing so. One of those sneakily learned tricks is our ability to translate the flow of language.
You might have noticed my first few sentences were short and snappy, splattered onto the page like spitballs shot from the end of a pen? I suppose it’s dependent on many factors (such as culture or context) but often times, short sentences and singular words can indicate aggression. Anger. Hostility. (Ahem, crankiness.)
And then there’s the opposite side of the cranky coin. Long, rambling, breathy sentences. There’s something like one of those if you go back and have a look at paragraph two: a long sentence snapped in half with a single comma, delicately laced with the odd italic to really hit the cranky ball out to left field. (Btw. If we’re going to be really nerdy about it, bold seems a better way to emphasis angry words, to me. It’s just that italics is so much prettier, don’t you think?)
Well! I hope you enjoyed my little nerdy cranky party. I sure did! In fact, have you noticed? I’m not cranky anymore! Just look at all the joyful exclamation marks a simple nerdy party can bring to this life of mine.
Yes. I really do think I should have more of these nerdy parties. Especially if I ever get the cranks up again.
It’s a phrase that makes my arm hairs stand up every time I say it, every time I think it. Kill your Darlings. Who would do such a thing? Who would even think up such a horrid plan? Well…writers, that’s who. And today— on this most darling day seventeen— I thought it might be nice to chat a little bit about what it means to Kill your Darlings.
I really could not tell you where the phrase Kill your Darlings came from. If I’m to believe the darling brain-dump that is the internet, then, apparently, the phrase was coined by American writer, William Faulkner, who said, ‘In writing, you must kill your darlings.’
Now, you might be thinking: Gee whizz, Brooke. That was a man with some real anger issues. Well…yeah. You may be right (because you know how much I love words, and who on earth would put the words ‘kill’ and ‘darling’ in the same sentence! Omg. I can’t even.)
But. The whole idea behind his grizzly phrase— I totally get it. And it really is a necessary evil when it comes to crafting a story that will make both writers and readers all shiny and jolly inside.
Traditionally, the phrase Kill your Darlings means that, in order to make your work great, you will need to leave your ego at the door. Ego is a me thing, after all, not a we thing (and books and stories should be all about we things, don’t you think?) That means smothering the ego. Deleting any sentences, paragraphs or words that make you smile but probably no one else.
When I’m writing, my little ego minions often step in with a standing ovation, a spirit-fed stoke of my writerly fire. And these tiny little ego minions…well, I kind of think they’re awesome. Because when they do come at me with their sweet words of encouragement—their little yellow arms waving giant pom-poms to celebrate all my wonderful— that’s when I know: this little ego fed darling just may need to meet the trash can. I flag it. And then, more often than not, I kill it.
I also have a wider idea of what the phrase Kill your Darlings might mean. Yes, I absolutely agree that the ego fed darlings of my work must be killed from time-to-time, particularly if they jar with the story, character or voice. But I also think the phrase is a good one to remember during the overall editing process—the finished draft is done and now, like Dumbledore’s Phoenix, it must die to become beautiful, once again. Unnecessary words must be cut and ego fed sentences must be well and truly buried, because in writing…less really does seem to be more.
I know, I know. Why would you do something so vicious to one of your darlings? How could killing it possibly make things better? Well. Here’s where I admit the truth. I don’t know how that magic works. All I know is that whenever I Kill my Darlings…they become better.