First, an explanation: the phrase “murder your darlings” is a bit of writing advice that’s been around for a couple of centuries. It was attributed to William Faulkner, but it turns out to be older than that. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch is said to have been the first to use it in the 19th Century. Many other writers have updated versions of the intent—which is basically to be willing to edit yourself mercilessly–especially some of your favorite parts. I also like Elmore Leonard’s “If I come across anything in my work that smacks of good writing, I immediately strike it out!”
Not claiming myself to be in league with Faulkner or Leonard, but I know I cut a lot out of my books. A lot.
I save all of my drafts and I found this one while looking for something else. Here’s an early version of the first chapter of Liam’s Promise, before I realized that Lilly Harper had Down’s Syndrome (which explains Liam’s deep protectiveness of her better) and when I had a different, darker version of David Harper in mind:
If I’d been thinking straight—on my game and paying attention—I would have seen it coming. Seen that look he gets in his eyes when the paranoia takes hold. Or noticed how quiet he’d been at dinner, even after Mom started talking about her disciplinary hearing for like the seventeen billionth time. If I’d been on my toes, I’d have known something was coming and lain awake in my clothes with my gun across my stomach and my boots and my gear ready at the foot of the bed.
But no. I let myself get distracted by—of all things—something as stupid as going to high school.
Okay, so it’s sort of a big deal since I haven’t been to a “regular school” since BDCH—before Dad came home. But four years ago when Dad came home from Afghanistan with both legs shot off everything changed—for all of us. It just made sense for Lilly and me to be home schooled while Mom was practically living at Walter Reed Military Hospital. And then, after rehab, Dad took over our education’s almost completely. I guess Mom figured it gave him something to do. Something other than obsess about the “sorry state of the world” and the parts of him that are missing.
But last year, when I turned 15, I started to feel like parts of me were missing, too. I mean, for the past four years, every time there was some story on the news about kids getting shot up in public schools Dad would lock eyes with me and jerk his chin, which in Dad-speak means: “See? You’re better off here. Why would you want to be under some desk hiding from gunfire, when you can spend a few hours on the books and then head up to the mountain with me and do the shooting yourself?”
That’s what he did when that shit went down at that school last winter– jerk his head at me– but that time, I was too pissed off with him– for other reasons—to keep my mouth shut.
“I still want to go,” I hissed into my spaghetti. I felt his eyes crawling over me in the sudden silence that fell over the dinner table. I braced myself for the worst—you never knew anymore when he’d snap—but before I felt the heavy weight of his hand, Lilly squeaked out:
“Me, too, Daddy. I know bad things happen at schools sometimes, but most of the times it looks like fun to be around other kids–”
“No.” His face was clean-shaven and his dark brown hair combed with military precision, but the haggard circles under his eyes were an even uglier remnant of what combat had done to him than anything else. Sometimes, if I squinted hard, I could almost remember the laughing brown eyes he’d had before…but I’d long ago given up hope that they’d ever come back.
“But Dad,” Lilly persisted in a soft voice that held the edge of a whine. “I get tired of studying with Liam all the time—“
“No!” His chair scraped out behind him and I knew what was going to happen. He’s pretty fast for a dude with two metal legs, but I’m faster. I was between him and Lilly as fast as those CGI gators in a bad SyFy movie and this time I wasn’t going to just take it, no matter what Mom said. This time if he lifted his hands, I was going to raise mine and if I knocked him off his prosthetics, so be it.
What I like about it: Liam is sharing how he feels. In many ways, I consider Liam to be the “straight man” of the series: when he’s narrating, he talks a lot about what’s going on with the others, but less about himself. He cares about what he’s going to do— and less sure about what he feels. I think that as he matures in the books, you’ll see this tendency grow stronger. He will become a man who expresses his caring by what he does– just like his father. (If he lives that long, that is!) But in this excerpt, he is speaking directly to his feelings: his resentments, his anger, his desire. It’s insight into his internal world.
Why I cut it: Though elements of this scene remain, I changed it quite a bit. There’s more action to it and less of Liam’s thoughts in the final version which make it more consistent with Liam’s character and with the changes I made to David Harper and Lilly. It was a bit too passive for the beginning of the story, so I moved it from Chapter 1, to a dream sequence in Chapter 7, when the kids are stuck in The Hole and aren’t sure when they’ll be able to come out. (If you haven’t read Liam’s Promise, you can get the ebook by clicking on the links here.
I liked this scene, but I think it’s better without as much “Liam talking.” Now, Liam tells a bit of this story, but it’s less about him and more about the entire family dynamic at the Harper household before the bomb. And I think the first chapter is better because it starts with the immediacy of needing to get to safety…and that we fill in the backstory with the flashbacks.
What do you think? Leave me a comment!