Sunday, January 3, 2010

Kill Your Darlings

by John Paolicelli Jr.

He sat in the dark living room holding the letter close to his chest. Finally, after hours of procrastination, Eddy opened it. The note from the editor simply read: “My advice to you is to kill your darlings.”

It wasn’t the in-depth response he had hoped for. What was supposed to be constructive criticism somehow managed to piss Eddy off. He crumpled the page into a ball and muttered, “Kill your darlings.”

He had heard it all before, but this rejection stung more than usual. “Stock Broker Massacre” was his favorite story, and he expected a better reception for the shorter version. After so many professors and editors had critiqued his writing as wordy, he concentrated on being succinct, and thought he nailed it with this, the eighth rewrite.

Okay, let’s clean this up one more time.

He tossed the manuscript onto his empty desk, pulled a file labeled “submittals” and a sharpie from a drawer, and placed them next to it. The rejection letters and writing projects from college once served as inspiration, but were now just painful reminders of his failures.

His dead eyes stared at the manuscript until the words blurred into gray haze. He shook his head, refocused, and then scribbled, “KILL YOUR DARLINGS” across the title page in giant letters. A sad laugh escaped as he exhaled.

He was introduced to the phrase by his first rejection letter. Eddy found it humorous, and had it printed on a t-shirt in jest. And though it wasn’t funny anymore, he pulled the shirt from his dresser drawer and put it on.

Maybe this will change my luck.

He leafed through the file, searching for hope in the scrap pile. Among the form letters were a few personal notes of encouragement. But as he came to the last, “Kill your Darlings” again jumped from the page. He grunted.

He pulled out a story he wrote in college. “While your attempts to cut out the fat are admirable, you still need to kill your darlings,” was written neatly in red below the C+ in the right hand corner.

Cut out the fat. Kill your darlings.

He reread ‘Stockbroker’ again. A red pencil circled and scribbled until the pages were left bleeding. An hour of intense self debate ended deadlocked, and in the end, he left the piece as it was. He sighed.

He read it aloud. The words seemed to dance rhythmically from his mouth. He shook his head, and threw the script across the room. He sat motionless for a long while, glaring at the pages scattered over the carpet.

“Kill your darlings,” he mumbled.

“Eddy it’s six a.m. Why are you still up?” his roommate Jim asked on his way to the bathroom.

“Just doing some editing.”

“Maybe someone should’ve edited that shirt. ‘Darlings’ is spelled wrong.”

Eddy pulled the shirt away from his chest and glanced down. He shrugged his shoulders. “It figures.”

Shouldn’t you be getting ready for work? Wall Street waits for no one.”

“No, got laid off last week. They blamed the economy.”

After a pregnant pause, Jim changed the subject. “Your story is good, but could be shorter. You need to visualize the story through the eyes of the killer. Get rid of the stuff that doesn’t advance plot. Then go back and kill your darlings.”

Kill your darlings.

Eddy nodded absently, his eyes fixed on the folder on his desk. Before he looked up, Jim had dressed, grabbed his gym bag, and hustled out.

“Through the eyes of the killer,” Eddy whispered, as he trudged to his bedroom closet and grabbed his hunting rifle.

Through the eyes of the killer.

With the manuscript in one hand and the rifle in the other, Eddy went to the window and opened the shades. From his perch eight stories up, he watched the city awaken through the scope of his rifle.

Below, a pretty blonde waited for the bus. She fiddled with a blackberry, grinning as her fingers clicked away.

There’s the ex-girlfriend. She really doesn’t advance the plot.

Gotta kill your darlings.

Bang! The girl crumpled to the ground. A screaming man dove behind a dumpster, sending seagulls flying in every direction. Eddy watched through the scope with a satisfied grin.

Looks good.

He picked up the manuscript and wrote a few notes in the border, then turned his attention back to the street. A man in a dark suit came out of a doorway and strode toward the subway.

“Just doing some editing,” he whispered as he moved the crosshairs onto the man’s forehead.


John is a 48-year-old new writer that lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and five Ridgebacks. This charming sociopath works as a manufacturing manager by day and a breeder of champion Rhodesian Ridgebacks by night. When not cleaning up puppy crap, he attempts to write and watch TV. He is an active member of the Science Fiction Writers Workshop.


Rachel Green said...

Sweet :)

Anonymous said...

Well, that's a bleak 'un to kick off the new year of stitches. Good work, John.

Cate Gardner said...

So that's where I'm going wrong when I'm editing...

jonathan pinnock said...

Nice start to Year 2!

spacedlaw said...


Jodi Lee (Morrighan) said...

So that's what they meant. Damn. ;)

Good work, John!

BryanRoyce said...

Is there any fundamental reason why most of the stories on this site in the last 1-2 months have inanely repeated the title throughout the story? Is this what we should call a chinchair'ism from now on?

Apart from that, this is a better story and a massive improvement on the last few weeks' "offerings".

Anonymous said...

Loved it. The ending reminded me of Little Murders, which was darkly comical as well. Why do we laugh at death? Dunno, it's just funny.