April 12, 2016

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Joe Gets Cut from the Team (Kill Your Darlings 3)

Writerly Friends, thank you for all your kind words about poor Madison Singleton. My horse-obsessed fifth grader is, after all, a minor character.

Much as we all love her (see last week's post), Maddie will remain a book phantom, like word nerd Sheldon before her.

I have only heard and read about what it feels like to be head over heels for horses when you're a kid, so I couldn't give Maddie fair shakes as anything more than a minor character, an ear, a BFF. Maddie will live on only in old drafts of my middle grade novel-in-verse, and in our memories. 

This week's Poetry Friday host is
Kathy at Merely Day by Day.
I hate to do it to you again, Tender Hearts, but this week's Poetry Friday post is third in my "Kill Your Darlings" series. Each post in the series features a poem or characters cut from my book.

It is now time to say goodbye to another of my favorite characters from THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

Most names in the book were carefully selected.
Joe is a star athlete and all around good guy. Even when he breaks his leg, he still coaches his fifth grade classmates in kickball. After all, everyone wants to beat the teachers in the traditional fifth grade vs. staff kickball game. Joe even has a secret, but what he doesn't have is any interest in school politics.

My ensemble of characters may be the only team that Joe's ever been cut from.

If you read the working blurb for  my book -- kind of like an expanded elevator pitch -- you'll see why I permanently benched Joe:

Bulldozers crouch outside Emerson Elementary, as if they long to eat the school in one gulp. It's up to fifth grade history buff George Furst and his friends to save the not-quite historic building from demolition. George has no clue how to organize a fifth grade full of crush-obsessed, experiment-exploding hamster haters into a protest, but unless he unites their class against the powerful Board of Education, George and his friends will be THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

With the click of a delete button, I erased Joe and the entire kickball game thread from my working draft.

I'm really sad about this one. I felt as if Joe's voice fit his poems well, not just in topic but also in form. Joe was the best concrete poem writer in Miss Hill's (imaginary) fifth grade class. What he didn't fit was the narrative arc of the story.

Let's meet Joe before he officially becomes a book phantom. Here are his four poems. As a minor character in the novel, Joe wrote one poem for each quarter of the school year (that's all Miss Hill required).

Lucky Hat
First Quarter Poem

The Poem I Found on My Cast
Second Quarter Poem
By Joe O’Day

Break a leg, man! Ha ha, Jay
Mary R♥se: Glad you’re okay.
Come back to kickball L from Katie
Suck it up! We need you, Sydney
Jason took my line, Dude (Ben)
Rajesh Rao: Feel better, friend!
This is Newton Mathews, Hi.
Thanks for letting me sign. Ty
Mark: Slow Joe? The end is near!
Super Ash was here

(This poem works a lot better when you are familiar with the cast (!) of characters in Miss Hill's class. Every fifth grader who signed Joe's cast made it into the final version of my novel.)

Like a Cheetah
Third Quarter Poem
By Joe O’Day

When I run, I’m like a cheetah,
a blur of muscles flying past.
Nothing can catch me, not even your eye.
Blink once – I’m gone.

When I kick, I’m a mule.
I’m stubborn and that ball WILL
go over the fence.
I can make it fly.

When I catch, I’m like a Rottweiler.
I jump, trap the ball, and hang on.
Don’t try to take nothing away from me.
I’m dangerous.

But when I’m in class, I’m like a horse
with saddle and reins.
I’ll go where you want. Do what you say.
And as soon as you let me loose
blink once – I’m gone.

From National Geographic.
(This poem is based on one of the poetry prompts I often use with elementary schoolers. You can read the lesson "Animals Are like Feelings" at this post.)

I'm sneaking in one kickball poem -- also cut -- about Joe, but written by a Keeper Character. I couldn't resist sharing this poem, because I love Jason's sense of humor.

Shoe Fly Pie
By Jason Chen

There once was a kicker named Joe
who could kick a home run in the snow.
You say you want proof?
Look! His shoe’s on the roof,
where it startled a really big crow.
(P. S. Too bad, this poem has no pie in it.)

Just as in Spoon River Anthology, the poems in my novel have a way of talking to one another. Characters reveal things about themselves, but also about their classmates. Events are described from more than one point of view.

Blue Ribbon Poem
Fourth Quarter Poem

The Field Day plot line was cut, along with the kid vs. teacher kickball game.
THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is more focused, concentrating on a class
that stands up to the Board of Education, and what consequences
that has for them as individuals and as a group.
Let's all tip our baseball caps as we say goodbye to Joe.

Writerly Friends, do you have any stories of characters loved and lost? Please share in your comments. Or, better yet, sign up to guest post about the poem, character, or plot you cut. I'm looking for a few good bloggers to feature in the Kill Your Darlings series.

Last, I'm glad so many of you thought that THE BOOK PHANTOMS would make a great novel. That's my next writing project, in the planning stages now! I'm so excited about this idea. Look for a YA speculative fiction novel about a character who won't let herself be deleted without a fight. Her teenage would-be author won't know what hit him (but it might be a  meat cleaver. Long story.) Let's just hope this book doesn't take me another five years.


Tabatha said...

Don't go, Joe! Your cut poems are so wonderful; I imagine your book will be snatched up by a publisher before long.

Author Amok said...

Tabatha, as Captain Picard would say, "Make it so!"

Veronica Bartles said...


I'm so glad you're sharing your cut characters and their poems on your blog. I agree that they no longer fit the plot of the story, but I'll miss these darlings almost as much as you do! I love each and every one of the original members of Miss Hill's 5th grade class! <3

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Veronica. Readers, as you may have guessed, Veronica is one of my critique partners. She appreciates the power of the delete button!

Cathy said...

I hardly know Joe, but I am sad to see him go. I enjoyed him so much, I can only wonder how much I will love the characters who manage to stay. So many fun poems --- and good mentors for young poets.


Ruth said...

If what you're cutting is so good, what you're leaving must be absolutely fabulous!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

With so many connections between your characters and their poems, it's a wonder you've been able to disentangle characters enough to kill them off cleanly. I hope Joe will enjoy his new life as a book phantom.

GatheringBooks said...

Oh. What a tragedy indeed. I am with Ruth, whatever is left behind must be so darn precious. Or better yet, write another book for all these darlings and see them brought back to life! :)

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Oh, Laura--

I read last week's and this week's post to catch up and as I think I've said before, your Project with a capital P approach to these poems, this book, these characters, is just so--so--so-- exciting inspiring admirable thrilling! As you may have guessed, I just can't swing that much focus for now, not even on a more random collection like the No poems. I'll just have pay attention and enjoy your Project with the 5th graders at Emerson, which is all the more interesting since Duncan is a 5th grader. Thanks for being so open about your process!
P.S. For some reason your blog is showing up very different than usual on my screen, just FYI. No nice design, just basic text.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

blog formar just corrected itself...

BJ Lee said...

Laura - I'm enjoying your Kill your Darlings series. Maybe all those killed darlings could get together for a book of their own down the road?! I applaud you for writing in this format.