Sometimes You Have To Kill Your Darlings

You’ll find Ramona first. A porcelain doll holding a maple ukulele alone in the first subway car. Skin painted and cold, the paleness will contrast the dark color of her stained red lips. The chiffon prom dress straight from the fifties will be as white as her now lifeless skin. Bloodied lips, a large belted sash, and her shoes will scream a red so fierce your ears will ring. The ringing will almost keep you from noticing the little cuts, the hundreds of little pale cuts, no longer bleeding, that made her scream for so long. I digress. This story starts earlier than what remains of Ramona’s lifeless body.

I put the dead body in the first paragraph. I was told to do it. There are rules that must be followed after all. Introductions must be made. Attention must be grabbed. Beginnings are more important than most people realize.

The urge will come upon me slowly. The desire will be masked at first. I won’t notice the little things. I’ll be easily irritated, overly emotional. New hobbies or crafts will start to appear shiny. Food, exercise, and sex won’t satisfy. The longing, a craving, I won’t be able to satisfy it without creating. And suddenly I’ll know that it is time to kill again.

Once I know it is time to to create I will start looking for ideas. I might flip through old notebooks to review past ideas or look for new ones elsewhere. I’ll hang out in interesting places and watch engaging people. I’ll read some new books or maybe see a movie. The key at this stage is keeping my mind open to any ideas that might be worth pursuing. Eventually though, an idea will grow. It will stick.

I don’t like to think of myself as having a type, but I must have one. I can’t even say that I understand what it is I’m looking for. It might be the way she smiles, a look, or maybe a particular turn of phrase that finally catches my attention. I do know that when I find her she’ll have a sparkle, an energy. She’ll be ripe with potential to change the world.

I’ll want to know all I can about the particular idea I have chosen. I’ll learn all the general and topological information. Then I’ll learn the history and patterns that led up to it, but that won’t be enough. I’ll dig deeper. I’ll want to know intimate information, sensory details that will bring the story to life when it is read.

Ramona Darling busked the dirty sidewalk of 39th and Pine just outside the entrance to the subway. She plucked and strummed that maple 6 string ukulele and sang with all she was. Lullabies, chanteys, pop songs and 80’s ballads fought the cacophony of that intersection struggling to live for just moments in the air above the noise. Dirty dollars and loose change would find their way into her case as the people walked by. They heard the music but they didn’t see her. They didn’t see the story that I saw.

Once I am satisfied with my research I start playing with the structure. I try to figure out what message I am trying to get out of my mind with this particular work. I discover the parts of the plot, the theme, and the characters and work to put them in an order that makes sense, that tell the story I can see and feel in my head.

Getting started can be tricky, but getting all the way to the end and finishing I believe is the hardest part. It wasn’t hard to get Ramona alone. When she woke in the room of the abandoned subway she was already bound and helpless. It took me days to carve the words into her flesh.  Just keeping her alive long enough to get all the words carved into her skin was a challenge, but then arranging her in the subway car without anyone seeing the show too early was also trick. I worked to get everything set up exactly as I had envisioned.

You don’t have to get it exactly right the first time. This is very important to remember, especially if you are new to this. I remind myself of this often. Don’t cripple yourself with self-doubt and fear. You can tweak the process as you learn more and gain experience. You can start fresh and rework this story as often as you like. Revise and edit it until you are satisfied.

I really just wasn’t satisfied with the way Ramona’s story turned out. Something was just not right. I feel like maybe there was more to her story than her skin allowed, more than I managed to tell. Maybe it was her eyes. I think they should have been blue. I am just not sure.

Be confident in yourself. I have a long way to go in my craft before all the parts come together. I’ll find the right story and the approach that works for me someday. I’ll just keep at it until I do.

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