“They Were Born on Twelfth Night to a Father Who Thought Himself Marvelous Clever”

That is how I’ve always described my first two heroines, Olivia and Viola Gardener, in my head, only to get through the writing of both of their stories without ever once finding an appropriate place to use it.  But sending words to be repurposed instead of to die is half the point of keeping a blog, is it not? 

I am also quite proud of myself for not forcing the phrase in somewhere.  My writing professor referred often to the concept of “murdering your darlings,” which I have employed with…shall we say, a flexible interpretation of the rule.  The basic idea comes from a letter by Beckett, maybe, or Coleridge (some luminary of English prose, at any rate), and the advice is essentially “if you write a passage you are especially pleased with, cross it out.”

Personally, I find that a repugnant piece of advice to use as he states it, because it supposes that a writer cannot read a passage and recognize that s/he has just written something beautiful, or haunting, or funny, or anything else good.  It suggests that a writer can have no taste as a reader.

Granted, I admit that it can be hard to be objective—why else does every writer who ever wrote get sick with nerves the moment s/he sends the draft to even a trusted first reader?—but I find it insulting to suggest that because I created the words, I cannot trust my own opinion of them. 

The way I have used this rule, then, is not about passages I read and found exemplary prose, but for lines of dialogue or jokes or descriptions that I particularly like but which do not fit the story.  In drafts of various stories this has ranged from making a gratuitous reference to Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” to the titular line of this post, which would fit the tone and voice of the two stories it refers to but which never fitted naturally into the prose line of either.  In both cases, when the moment(s) came to discuss the girls’ birthday, names, and relationship as twins, other points were being emphasized than that their father had made a gratuitous Shakespearean reference in choosing their names.

Part of this also might have been my not feeling it necessary to underscore further that the reference was intentional.  I was quite obvious with it; the name of the two parallel stories are “What You Will” and “Twelfth Night”—the title and secondary title of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, or, What You Will.  The girls’ names are Olivia and Viola.  The action of the stories is all based around characters disguising themselves as each other, first Viola as her sister Olivia and then their two beaux as one another.  Hell, the inspiration for the story, at its most basic level, was the play, and my desire to write something light and fun and mistaken-identity-ridden.  I think “What You Will” succeeds on that level better than “Twelfth Night” does, because the second story has a much darker emotional turn.  The first one uses disguise for hopeful means, the second for despairing ones.  But, still, that play was the genesis of them both, and the stories’ lineage is clearly stamped in their basic features.

And as much as I do love that line of description, I also recognize that it didn’t belong within the text of either story to which it could refer.  I’m just happy there’s a place where I can let it shine, however briefly, however dimly, out in the open for all to see and admire.  Because for all that I murdered it, it’s still one of my darlings.

Or, The graveyard of murdered darlings


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