Well, I Killed THAT Darling

It’s a special darling. It’s been in my mind for nine years and in a story almost that long.

It was a darling in the first picture book I ever wrote when, as I was dreaming up imaginary picture books to “excerpt” in The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide, I dreamed up one idea that I didn’t want to just write a few lines of–I wanted to write the whole thing.

I wrote the whole thing. It became a full, complete picture book–my first ever–called Dragon Burps. The darling was a major source of inspiration and took its place in a place of honor–the story crisis. With the help of a Bay Area freelance editor (who is wonderful and now helping me with these other picture books!), I revised and revised. And submitted. I had no takers, but I got a few nice comments. I revised a little more, and it was better, but…

I worked on other things–some YA and middle-grade and those most recent picture books.

And then in February, I went to the 2018 SCBWI Spring Spirit conference and, in Mark Teague’s session on leaving room for the illustrator, I flashed on a new way to revise Dragon Burps. The new way didn’t touch the darling, but suggested a much better handling of the turning point of each scene in the middle. I knew it was going to let me build to the crisis in a much stronger, more tense arc.

I was right. I just sat down with the manuscript today. I cut and I tightened. (This manuscript is currently at 700+ words; my newer ones are all under 500.)

And I scribbled notes to weave in the turning points. It is going to be better. It creates a plot that makes much more sense in terms of setting up the ending.

Just not my darling ending.

As I realized what was going on, the first feeling was that click your brain hears when you make something better, more “right.” Then came the sadness. The recognition that the spark that started not just a single story, but an entire journey, had to go. Select, delete, gone.

This was a biggie.

Luckily, so was the feeling of happiness that flowed in, gave the sadness a nudge, and asked it politely to get out of the way. And luckily, the darling took a gentle bow befitting its stature in my life, then stepped aside.

I made a promise, years ago, to the darling, that I would turn it into an entire story, and I did. Today, I’m making it another promise, that I will turn it into a better story.

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