Writer’s Quote: Killing Your Darlings

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

— William Faulkner.

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William Faulkner

What does it mean to kill your darlings? Well, first, what is a darling? A darling is something that interferes with the relationship between you and your audience. It’s a part of your writing (could be a line in a poem, a paragraph in a story, or an entire chapter in a novel) that doesn’t do the work it needs to do but, despite this, you love it and refuse to edit it out.

All writers are guilty of harboring darlings. It’s the line that someone told you had such a nice ring to it. It’s the character trait that is pulled from someone you know in your own life. It’s the pop culture reference that only you and your friends “get.” As fun as it is for us writers to read and re-read these darlings, as much as they make us smile, we have to remember the writing is not for us, not unless it’s a diary. And if the writing is for someone else, an audience, we must be attentive to its purpose, what effect it is designed to have on the reader. Does the passage advance the plot, does it build the character, does it enhance the reader’s sense of setting? No matter how long the work is, every line in it has to “do” something. If you’re not sure what the line is “doing” but you just like the way it sounds, it might be a darling. And as fun as they are for us to read, they fall flat for our audience and thus interfere with whatever else we are trying to communicate to them. Good writers become “good” by being ruthless in their determination of what really “works” on the page and what doesn’t.

But isn’t writing supposed to be fun? Do we have to be ruthless all the time? Darlings persist when there is ambivalence on the author’s part about who a piece of writing is for. If the story is akin to a diary entry, if it will only ever be read by you, then you can have as many darlings as you want. But if it’s for anyone else, then you have a duty as a writer to consider your audience’s expectations (often based on genre) and their desire for entertainment (this cuts across all genres.) As authors we certainly don’t want to pander to audiences, but we can’t afford to ignore them either. Your writing is the machinery that delivers your dreams, your ideas. Darlings are the pretty little flowers that get stuck between the gears.

Click here to read more about weeding out your darlings. This author has suggestions for how you can preserve them, to some degree, if you can’t quite bear to kill them entirely.

Have you ever killed a darling? How did it feel?


This post was contributed by Jeff Sanger, one of GCC’s English and CRW faculty. In addition to periodically contributing thoughtful posts like this, he is also planning to facilitate our first Saturday Morning Workshop for Fall 2018. That workshop will take place this weekend, September 8th, from 10AM to Noon on GCC Main. Read more about it here: Who Are Your Characters?

Saturday Workshop: Who Are Your Characters?

Aaaaaaand, we’re back for the 2018-2019 academic year. If you’re a newly-subscribed follower of the blog, welcome! If you’ve been with us for a while, welcome back! If you have no idea why you’re on this page or receiving an email notification, consider our meeting destiny/fate/true love and be welcome too. For our first event of the year, Jeff Sanger is going to put on a free Saturday workshop. Description and details below. Hope to see you there!


Certainly, you have an idea who your story is about, but do you know what your protagonist’s favorite color is? If they were sentenced to death, what would they order for their last meal? Trivial considerations? Perhaps. But the better you, the author, know your characters, the more fully they come through on the page for your reader. And readers across all genres love vivid characters. But how do you learn more about your characters? Can your characters be further revealed to you as you write about them? Many writers believe they can.

Even if you know your characters well, the other challenge, of course, is delivering this information to your audience, making sure they understand who your characters really are. Page after page of exposition (telling) about your characters typically leads to a disinterested audience that puts the story down unfinished, that outcome every writer fears. How do you show your readers who your characters are?

Visit our characterization themed Saturday workshop to implement some proven techniques to learn more about your characters and bring them to life on the page.

  • What & Who: Who Are Your Characters?, with Jeff Sanger
  • When: Saturday, September 8th from 10:00AM to 12:00PM
  • Where: GCC Main Campus, Room LA-141
  • Why: Power! Unlimited power!

Artists of Promise

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Please consider attending this wonderful annual event next Wednesday, April 25th at the Herberger Theatre in Phoenix. The event is in celebration of the student winners in a variety of arts competitions held throughout the academic year, including creative writing. The art exhibition and reception begins at 5:30PM and performances begin at 6:30PM. Find out more information at the district’s Artists of Promise website.

Saturday Workshop: Using the Dramatic Arc

You’ve got a story to tell! You know what you want the audience to take away from your work. The question is, how do you keep them engaged along the way? Whether you’re writing a short story, a novel, or even a play, tightening up your plot using the dramatic arc as a guide can lead to greater reader engagement with your work. In this workshop we’ll learn about how the dramatic arc works and how you can use this knowledge to create a riveting plot in any work of fiction.

  • What & Who: Using the Dramatic Arc – How to Keep Your Audience on the Edge of Their Seats, with Jeff Sanger
  • When: Saturday, April 14th from 9:30AM to 11:30AM
  • Where: GCC Main Campus, Room LA-141
  • Why: Kittens
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Saturday Workshop: Bringing Order to Chaos

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion begins in her seminal essay, “The White Album.” The essay explores a time in her life in which stories no longer make any sense. What happens when our stories stop making sense, when the narratives we carry, the experiences we’ve had, no longer feel like they’re enough? We do live in a world of chaos, lives of chaos, and if you’re anything like me that chaos can reflect on the page in a way which can seem confusing and daunting, lacking any structure and coherence.

Is it possible to bring order to the chaos, make it work on the page? Let’s take a look at some authors who have struggled with this very dilemma, have struggled during difficult times to stay afloat and have turned their personal, emotional, and external chaos into beautiful and moving collages that tell a story that moves beyond a single threaded narrative. Let’s explore our own scattered materials and see if we can find where the pieces fit on the page.

As always, our Saturday workshops are free and open to the public. Homemade pastries baked at a grocery store completely unaffiliated with GCC will be provided. Probably.

  • What & Who: Bringing Order to Chaos, with David Martinez
  • When: Saturday, March 3rd from 9:30AM to 11:30AM
  • Where: GCC Main Campus, Room LA-141
  • Why: Because who doesn’t want to birth a dancing star?

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Creative Writing Events Imminent!

Presidents’ Day still affecting your internal clock? Surprised it’s Wednesday already? Wondering what to do this week? Wonder no further. There are a host of creative writing events this week, starting tonight:

Wednesday (2/21): Open Mic at GCC Main, in SU104e. From 7PM to around 8:30PM. Featured reader is GCC’s own Mike MacDee.

Thursday through Saturday (2/22-2/24): Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference, hosted by the Virginia G. Piper Center at ASU.

Saturday (2/24): Shared Spaces – An Evening of Dance, Music and Poetry at the US/Mex Border, hosted by Cochise College

Open Mic: Featuring Mike MacDee

It’s taken several years, over thirty open mic readings, the tears of numerous children, an eye of newt, an uprooted and discolored patch of crabgrass, careful deconstruction of the lyrics of Phil Collins, and your credit card numbers, but we have finally achieved what we sought out to achieve with these open mics: a featured reader with the first name Mike. How could we possibly top this? (Incidentally, if you or someone you know goes by the name “Open” and is interested in a featured reader spot at March’s event, please contact us.)

Even if your name is something other than Mike, we still want you to show up, we still want you to share your creative work with us, and we still want you spend an hour or two commiserating with other creatives at GCC. We hope you’ll read, but if you’d rather listen to the works of others, that’s fine too. We don’t restrict content, so these events aren’t normally suited for young humans. Water and snacks with high sodium content might be provided.

  • What: Open Mic Event, Featuring Mike MacDee
  • When: Wednesday, February 21st from 7:00 to 8:30PM
  • Where: GCC Main Campus, SU-104E
  • Why: Open mic events are how Phil Collins got started*

*Editor’s note: This probably isn’t true.


About the Featured Reader: Mike MacDee has been trapped in Arizona for as long as he can remember, not unlike General Zod was trapped in the Phantom Zone in Superman II. He even has a cool beard just like Zod. Unlike Zod, he is a pretty nice guy, and also a published author, cartoonist, comic author, and game designer who works with dogs as his day job. You can check out all of his projects at MikesToyBox.net!

Binational Arts Residency, Desert Nights, & Other Events

As you head into the weekend and begin making plans for your writing and arts endeavors, remember that February brings a wonderful series of arts events that range from Phoenix to Tucson to the US/Mexico border. View the BNAR press release and head to binationalartsresidency.com for more information about these central and southern Arizona events, and about other opportunities to participate.

Remember, too, that our friends at ASU’s Piper Center are hosting their annual Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference in two weeks, from February 22nd through February 24th.

And, don’t forget about GCC’s own local workshop tomorrow, February 10th! Jayme Cook will talk about writing endings.


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Traveler Winners for 2017-2018

Please join the creative writing faculty at GCC in congratulating those selected for publication in the 2017-2018 edition of the Traveler. We received roughly 100 submissions of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. From those submissions, the student literary staff, faculty judges, and community reader identified the pieces below, selecting them for publication. The physical publication of Traveler will be released later this Spring. Another announcement will be made when they are available

To all of the writers who submitted pieces to the Traveler, we humbly thank you for allowing us to read your work. The selection process is long and difficult, and many of the choices for publication this year came down to the slightest of margins. We hope that all of you will submit more of your creative work next year. The new submission period will open up during the Fall 2018 semester.

Here are the selections, as chosen by Traveler staff and our judges:

Fiction

  • First Place: “Merry-Go-Round”, by Sara Steven
  • Second Place: “The Bargain”, by Dawn Gibbs
  • Third Place: “A Trip to Destiny”, by Cynthia Herda
  • Honorable Mention: “Last Call to Ruin Your Life”, by Jordan Johnson

Creative Nonfiction

  • First Place: “The Devil in October”, by Liesl Nichole Meador
  • Second Place: “Memories”, by Liesl Nichole Meador
  • Third Place: “Closed Indefinitely”, by Hannah Walkner
  • Honorable Mention: “A Call to Savor Family”, by Jeanneane Haley

Poetry

  • First Place: “Hello, You”, by Cara Cisero
  • Second Place: “Breathing Space”, by Bryan Swepston
  • Third Place: “I See You”, by Felicia Cole
  • Honorable Mention: “Texas Hillside”, by Felicia Cole
  • Honorable Mention: “I Am”, by Kayla Jensen

Due to a low number of flash fiction submissions, they were instead considered for the broader category of fiction. We chose to publish four pieces of fiction, instead of three, to represent the increased number of candidates. For drama, readers and judges chose not to publish any selections this year. We hope the 2018-2019 Traveler contest will see more candidates and more submissions.

Thank you, again, to everyone who submitted, and congratulations to those selected!