“Murder your darlings…”

Posted on | March 24, 2009

One of the most common phrases you hear early in any writing career is “Murder your darlings.” What it means is that you must learn to ruthlessly cull any scene from your story that doesn’t serve the story, no matter how much you love that scene, no matter that it’s the one scene in the whole book that made you cackle with glee and rub your hands in anticipation of the reader’s reaction. If it doesn’t make the whole of the story work, throw it overboard.

I murdered one of my true darlings last night. It was real brain crack. I’ve had this image in my head for ages, even wrote it down and had it out as best I could. It was a lovely scene, all full of royal teenage swearing and cursing at the excessively helpful AI who overcame all her careful outrage and upset and depression and just wouldn’t let her kill herself, dammit, not even in a fall from orbit. Many of my stories contain homages, and this was supposed to be another Masamune Shirow homage: one of the cliche’s of which he’s fond is that everything he writes always seems to feature a beautiful woman jumping off a building: Duenan jumps out of Athena tower in the Appleseed remake, echoing the suicide that opens the original; Motoko can’t pass by an episode of Stand Alone Complex without falling off a building somewhere, and even opened Ghost in the Shell with a fall-off-a-building scene.

Sadly, the scene has disappeared from Fallen Angel. The story of Fallen Angel is one that’s been percolating in my head for years and years, and the idea is simple: in a slower-than-light universe, in a sphere no more than 30 or 40 light-years across, with no contra-physics phenomena, two groups live more or less intermingled, both brought by the same starship thousands of years ago. The first group, the settlers, are living an almost idyllic, arcadian lifestyle. (A close read of the village in the middle of the book will reveal an obvious relationship to another famous pastoral village in literature.) The second group, the crew, have headed off and become part of their starships, living among their machines. These two “empires” are embedded in one another, one using stars bright enough to support Terran-style worlds, the other living among the brown dwarfs and interstellar debris, of which there is much in the neighborhood. After two thousand years of increasingly ruthless experimentation, the Empire of the Crew have made their breakthrough and achieved substrate independence: they can now upload their own consciousnesses into their computers directly, and there’s no need for them to keep around the heavy, wet-filled nanotech life support system they call The Living Water.

The scene I wrote is the one where Princess Heiderome decides she doesn’t want to be in this suffocating, unchanging place anymore, that the routine and obvious brutality of her place have made her crazy and depressed, and she tries to off herself in dramatic fashion, burning up in the atmosphere style, but her EVA suit is too smart for her and saves her.

I’ve had to ditch it in favor of a better scene, ten years after the fact, her adoptive father is telling her re-entry moment from his point of view, and he’s telling it to someone “of the gods.” The scene involves a lot more detail, allows us to get her reaction now that she’s older and, better yet, allows me to re-write her motives. She was much younger when the incident occurred, too young in fact to have made the decision herself. This gives me a conspiracy within the Crew, plus I came up with a reason why she was tossed into an interstellar-capable emergency shell, and even better, when she goes to sleep voices whisper to her. Voices, many many voices, that are afraid of “the gods,” but also afraid of the Crew, should they be discovered. These voices tell her truths she would rather not know, but they are her friends and her comforters.

Far off in space, the ships of the Empire are coming.

There are several working conflicts within the book now, thanks to my deleting the original scene. Heidi is a much more interesting character at fifteen than she was earlier, and although she’s kept the nanotech-added advantages of her birthright– much stronger, a bit tougher, more perceptive, but no faster and unfortunately unable to swim– she’ll be forced to decide which life she wants. The voices she hears are from an entire virch she carries within her, the first successful uploading. Only the people of the virch don’t see it as successful. They have an agenda. The starship coming to her world is looking for her, but doesn’t know which world she’s on. And it’s looking for the virch, but doesn’t know she has it. And people on that ship have an agenda.

And maybe the gods have an agenda of their own.

Huh. I just realized. This might be construed as something of a Superman retelling, with the voices in Heidi’s head a 21st-century version of the Bottle City of Kandor. I don’t know anything about the Superman legend really– didn’t like the movies much and wasn’t a Supes fan, and what little I know about Kandor comes from some descriptions of it in episodes of Legion of Superheroes (which I was a fan of, no surprises there). I’ve never watched Smallville (sp?) either.

Anyway, the falling-from-space scene is gone from Fallen Angel, which is okay: I’ve worked it into an episode of Caprice Starr instead, I think. Can anyone think of a good reason why a space shuttle might be carrying a lot of weather balloons?

Comments

4 Responses to ““Murder your darlings…””

  1. Falbert
    March 24th, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    I have to agree, Shirow does tend to drop his heroines from the heights. Even within each series, there are often falls of several different sorts.

    Let’s see… a shuttle going up with a bunch of weather balloons. Might be they’re going to be inflated and used as toys in a game. I’m thinking of Ender’s Game – as ‘stars’ or ‘planets’ inside a large space. Something to hide behind and launch a body from, or just toss around in micro gravity.

    If the shuttle is going down the well with them as cargo, then I’d suggest that perhaps they’re going to be used as weather balloons, to survey a new world. Floating around in the atmosphere for a while, they’d be able to do aerial survey, perhaps with better resolution than from orbit, and could potentially remain aloft for quite some time.

  2. Leonardo
    March 24th, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

    Maybe for testing a new suborbital airborne vehicle, like an obstacle course or for testing weponry systems. I agree with Falbert’s propositions too.

  3. Mark
    March 31st, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    Weather balloons in a space shuttle? How about a long-term terraaforming project for a heavy CO2-atmosphere planet, where the balloons are used to release biological agents at different locations and levels of atmosphere. Carl Sagan originally porposed it for Venus. It was later shown to not be feasible for Venus, but maybe somewhere else out there it may be just the trick.

  4. warstoke
    April 6th, 2009 @ 3:43 am

    Well i bet they could be used to slowly spread the nanochine across a planet since they would move about on the air currents to aid in a rapid terraforming process

    as for murdering your darlings dont i know it
    ive had to cull many many lines of poetry from the chaff
    what really hurts is when you are forced to murder them cause some idiot hacks your website and fills your poetry with adds for cheap drugs lol
    i just switched to wordpress because that just happend while i was using smf as a backend

    oh and elf if you want i give you permission to use any of my poems in part of whole in your stories so long as you dont charge for them and point a nod my way

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