Killing your Darlings

William Faulkner famously advised that when writing, you must “kill your darlings.” Stephen King elaborated, “…kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Meaning, sometimes, you have to cut out parts of your story that you like. Maybe you really, really like it, whether it’s a chapter, a character or absolutely brilliant banter. But for one reason or another, it doesn’t enhance the story and it must go.

I’m working on a Holmes short story. It’s got a scene where Holmes does a little cooking experiment while Mrs. Hudson is out. Now, I’m not saying this is classic writing, and it still would have quite a bit of refining and rewriting before it was good enough, but I do think it’s a fun premise. But it’s too long and it can be handled in a much more efficient way. So, in movie-making parlance, it is now on the cutting room floor.

Holmes has cooked a few turnovers – some with arsenic in the batter, some without arsenic. He’s done all this in Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen. He also experimented on some knives with arsenic. Now, picture Holmes baking, apron on, and imagine Mrs. Hudson’s reaction later to finding he did some of his crazy experimenting, with poison, in her kitchen, with her pots and pans!

“That is not all Watson. Last night, I removed two kitchen knives from downstairs and placed a minimal amount of arsenic on one and a moderate amount on the other. As you can see” (here he unwrapped a kerchief he had removed from a drawer)   “they are completely unchanged. Applying arsenic to a knife does not blacken it. We have now refuted two pieces of evidence cited against Ms. Fanning. We are off to a strong start.”

“Come now, we must not keep the Turners waiting. If you would be so kind?” He wrapped the knives back up and gestured for me to take the tray with the now-covered dumplings. I bundled up for the cold weather and picked up the metal tray.

“Watson” he said, quietly. “I think it would be best if you not mention any of this to Mrs. Hudson. I have scoured every implement, pot and pan that had even a possibility of coming into contact with the arsenic. I burned the other dumplings and threw the ashes in the dustbin. I will of course scrub the covered tray you hold in you hands. As for the knives, I shall clean and dispose of them, telling our landlady I misplaced them, should she notice their absence. I shall purchase two exact replacements, as well as additional ones to recompense her. I do not believe she would approve of my experiments, were she to learn of them.” He said the last with a pained smile.

Holmes_MaryGordonI wholeheartedly agreed. Mrs. Hudson was a proper matron of conservative values. I cannot imagine her response to being informed foods containing arsenic had been made in her very kitchen. Upon reflection, I could imagine. She would be appalled, and would likely insist that everything used in preparing the food must be disposed of and replaced. She had suffered many indignities during our time in her abode, but this might be too much for even her.

“Holmes, if this case proves worthy of writing up, I might even omit that you conducted the experiments in our kitchen. I fear that her discovery of such, even years after the fact, might be ill-received.”

He chuckled at that. “Doctor, that may be the most accurate deduction you have made in our experiences together.” Laughing with him, we left our rooms and headed to the Turners

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