“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
– Stephen King
I’m approaching the 50,000 word mark this evening.
After chapter Twenty-Four, I’m on the home stretch. The first draft is very nearly, almost, possibly nearing completion. PHEW! 20,000 more words maximum which seems infinitely more do-able than when I first began this bad boy a few years ago. There is light at the end of the tunnel after all.
Then comes the hard bit, right? Weeding out the Filler. The stuff you hear yourself saying in your head as you’re writing, and you know its a) unnecessary b) flowery or c) god-awful, but your fingers keep tapping away at the keyboard anyway.
But what if you find yourself attached to the Filler? What if you, like me, find it kind of hard to get brutal with the red pen or delete button? I have the fear of The Edit.
How do we identify the bumf? When you’re so close to your characters, you start viewing their every waking thought as important, no matter how banal or removed from the plot it might be.
I’ve just spent a couple of hours typing the below chapter because it popped into my noggin. I’m not sure it will survive the Red Pen Fest because its not integral to the story and, if I am completely honest, most of my chapters contain more waffle than an IHOP.
Anyone else find it difficult to approach the editing process? Do you continue writing the story before you edit, like me, or do you automatically delete something you think might not survive the cut?
A couple of days pass and we just spend all our time like this. We stay at The Angel because it’s cheap but we both hate it. I don’t like the way people look at me there, eyes lingering for a little too long. Stan, the receptionist who works the night shift and signed us in the first day, creeps me out the most. He’s always lurking, in the corridors, at the bottom of the staircase, hanging out near the lobby vending machine so I have to talk to him when we go to get snacks. He licks his lips too much, dead slowly like a dog waiting for dinner. Kyle doesn’t let me go down to the lobby on my own.
We just go in and out of the hotel, walk the streets. We seem to just exist between the hours of sleep.
Kyle persuaded me to chuck my phone because they can trace us through the number. He’s been getting a bit weird about being tracked and I get the feeling that he wants us to just disappear. He talks about it all the time – he says it jokingly – but he gets this look. He keeps asking about Gran’s journal but it’s a mess, just jumbled words and sentences. It’s like she’s written down as she says it in her head, half-remembered somethings, almost-memories. I’ve read it through twice but nothing stands out. Kyle’s getting a bit impatient and every time I ask him what’s wrong he says he is fine but we’ve already decided to move to a different motel after tonight, you know, because we can’t stay in one place for too long.
‘We’re runaways,’ Kyle said. ‘We’re supposed to keep running away.’
I didn’t know how to tell him I wasn’t a run-away and that I don’t want to be one. That I’d always intended to go back to my family. That I was hopefully running towards something, not away from it. So I just stayed quiet.
Do you ever just listen to the rain? Just sit back and listen, watch as it falls at that weird jaunty angle? Just feel it seep into your clothes, your hair, and your skin? Rain makes a great sound on concrete but I can’t describe it, there isn’t a good-enough word.
We’re sitting in one of the bus shelters in Piccadilly Gardens, hoods up, bags on the floor. Spike is wedged in between the two of us, sulking and swinging his feet back so forcefully that we have to grip the bench as he rocks. The weather has been crap since we left The Angel this morning, so we’d had to try and get a coat on Spike but the only way was to pin him down and shove it over his head already zipped up and I think we might have been a bit rough.
‘Batman doesn’t wear a coat,’ he’d snarled through the waterproof fabric as Kyle manoeuvred Spike about inside so it fit properly.
‘Well, Manchester Batman does,’ Kyle replied. ‘Its pissing it down.’
We’ve been sat here for a bit, watching people dash about, trying to keep out the rain. A couple of girls run across the road and into the path of a bus. The bus stops in time and the driver sounds its horn really loudly.
‘Idiots,’ he shouts after the girls but they’re already off, heading in the direction of the awning over the entrance to a Tesco Express, oblivious to the fact that a bus nearly ploughed them down like a steam roller. I watch them shake off their hoods and umbrellas, and take their place in the row of shoppers seeking refuge from the bad weather.
‘This is fucking miserable,’ Kyle moans, whipping back his hood.
‘Ammmmmmm…you said F,’ Spike says in that horrible bratty way kids do when you’ve pissed them off. ‘I’m telling Dad.’
‘Go ahead,’ Kyle says. ‘But I think it will be a while before you see him.’
‘I WANT DAD.’ Spike is verging on hysterial.
‘Well he’s not here,’ Kyle shouts back.
Spike shoots to his feet and starts stomping around. ‘I WANT MY DAD. I WANT MY DAD.’ He grabs hold of the Perspex bus shelter and starts rattling it. ‘WHERE IS MY DAD?’
Kyle just makes this dismissive sound and turns away. ‘He’s where he always is, Spike. Work.’
I don’t know what to do so I just look over at the people under the Tesco canopy and see that they’re staring at us, the two girls point and say something to each other.
‘Why did you say that to him?’ I snap at Kyle. ‘Everyone is watching.’
Kyle just shrugs, pulls up his hood and crosses his arms.
‘He’s just a little boy,’ I say.
‘Well he needs to toughen up.’
‘He’s six years old,’ I say, my body jerking forward with the movement of Spike’s fists battering the shelter. I’m worried he’s going to break it.
‘Yeah, well. The sooner he learns the better.’
‘He’s just a kid. How can you be so harsh?’
‘Maybe it’s what he needs,’ Kyle says, bitterly. He turns and stares at me, looks me dead in the eyes and shouts, ‘Maybe he needs someone to get him to toughen the fuck up and then he won’t be surprised.’
I move a little away from him because I don’t like the tone in his voice or the way that he’s looking at me, like he’s not really seeing me, and his eyes are all wide and red like he’s been crying a bit.
‘Maybe then he won’t be pulled to fucking pieces when shit happens because he’ll already be tough enough. Someone would have taught him how things really are. What really happens to kids like us.’
I try to think of other stuff to say. I want to ask him what he means but my mouth just kind of moves open and shut again. The words won’t come out. Instead I go round the back of the bus shelter and pick Spike up. He’s really heavy and flails about like a fish on the end of a line but I eventually manage to get him to sit on my knee and stop kicking.
‘That’s better, isn’t it?’ I say in this weird voice that comes from nowhere. Kyle turns and gives me a filthy look. ‘What now?’ I say.
‘Since when did you start babying him?’
‘Since you started being such a dick,’ I snap.
‘I’m sorry,’ Kyle says.
It’s a little while later and Spike and I are playing around with some toys in a shop who’s name I have already forgotten.
‘Whatever,’ I say and move along to the next shelf, pick something up and pretend to look at it. I’m still mad at him; my insides feel all knotted and whirling. I watch him out the corner of my eye, watch him kneel down next to Spike and say he’s sorry. Spike turns away at first and pouts, continues to bang a little wooden drum with a plastic T-Rex.
‘I’m a massive jerk,’ Kyle says. ‘I’m sorry I shouted at you, mate.’
‘You’re a poo-poo head,’ Spike says, discarding the T-Rex and selecting a Stegosaurus as his next victim.
‘A giant poo-poo head,’ Kyle agrees. ‘A giant poo-poo head with a load of rabbit droppings and cat wee-wee on top.’
Spike laughs at the mention of wee-wee and I realise I’ve lost him as my ally. They’ve done this before, the two of them. Fallen out and made up over and over again. Kyle tickles Spike and Spike giggles, stops bashing the dinosaur and clutches it tenderly to his chest.
‘You want that, mate?’
Spike nods and smiles, but not too much, and gives it just enough of the puppy-eyes to make Kyle feel bad. ‘I like them both,’ he says. ‘They’re my only friends now.’
Kyle eats it all up, looks really sad. ‘Then both you shall have,’ he exclaims and Spike starts laughing really loudly. He looks back at me and smiles and I realise we’ve all been conned.
‘Don’t you think this one looks a bit like Andy?’ Kyle says, holding up the T-Rex which makes Spike burst into another raucous bout of laughter.
We were never allies. I was a pawn in his game. The kid is good. I’ve got to give him that.
I just shoot them both a look. ‘Traitor,’ I say to Spike but he doesn’t seem to understand because he just wonders off up the aisle and starts playing with a stuffed Koala. No doubt he’s casing the joint for further swag.
‘Do you want me to buy you a present too?’ Kyle pouts and moves towards me, holding the plastic dinosaurs out in front of him and making them move as though they’re flying. He stops right in front of me and makes the Stegosaurs neigh like a horse.
‘Very accurate,’ I say.
‘Just call me David Attenborough,’ he says and leans his back against the shelf, turning to try his sad look on me.
‘Don’t do that!’ I screech. ‘You’re as bad as that little liar down there.’
‘Our eyes are your kryptonite.’
‘You’re such a pratt.’ I can’t help it; I feel the edges of my mouth twitch into a smile.
‘Come on,’ Kyle says, taking hold of my hand. ‘I’ve got an idea.’