I have a set playlist for the holidays when it come to movies. Every year, my husband and I kick off the season by watching Home for the Holidays the night before Thanksgiving. (If you haven’t seen it, watch it next year — it will make your holidays seem blissful by comparison.) Then, in no particular order, we always watch Christmas in Connecticut, Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, Lethal Weapon 1, and Love, Actually. (I always manage to sneak Amends, Season 3, episode 10 of Buffy in there too — I’m a rebel like that.)
As much as I love all these holiday shows (and yes, Lethal Weapon counts) only one helped me make my book better. Coincidentally, that’s the one that has Hugh Grant dancing. Amazing, isn’t it? I think we need a shot of Hugh dancing. After all, any post with a picture of Hugh can’t be that bad.
How, you ask, did this come to pass? (The improvement to the book, not the picture. That picture is not actually the picture I wanted to post. The picture I wanted to post appeared a few years ago in Vanity Fair, and I believe showed Mr. Grant dancing in a loincloth during his Oxford days. A copy of that picture would make it a Merry Christmas, indeed.)
Well, since I love the movie so much, my husband bought it for me a few years ago and sat through the ‘extras’ feature with me. I know the movie didn’t get fabulous reviews when it came out, but I personally think Richard Curtis is amazing, and in the extras he talks about the bits that didn’t make it in, and why. There’s a whole subplot involving a family across the world that’s suffering in a drought. They had to film it, pay the actors for it, put it in the movie — and then they cut it out. It wasn’t bad — there was nothing wrong with it — it just distracted from the action of the main story.
That, more than any fiction class I’ve taken, got the ‘kill your darlings’ message through to me. It made me go back and look very hard at my manuscript, and make sure that Every. Single. Scene. advanced the plot in some way. If it didn’t, I gritted my teeth, hit the delete button, and cut it from the book. (I did, however, make sure to save it in an ‘extras’ file, because you never know.) It was painful, but it made my manuscript stronger.
So this holiday season, if you’re a writer struggling with a book, rent Love, Actually. Enjoy the movie, then watch the extras, and then go kill some darlings of your own.