My mother was a great storyteller.
Many of her tales came from childhood days spent in the coastal Florida town of Fernandina Beach. For a number of years, her parents managed the Keystone Hotel in Center Street. They lived there too, and many of Mom's best stories came from that time.
Few intrigued me more than the one about the night blooming cereus.
Her Dad, Papa Louis, was a keen gardener and prided himself on nurturing some plants that were unusual for a coastal Florida town. One of these was his night blooming cereus, a rather exotic specimen (of the cactus family) that bloomed once a year, and only at night.
The plant sat in its ornate pot on a table in the hotel lobby. Months and months went by. Nothing happened. People marveled at this unusual character sitting there, seemingly inactive, but all the while plotting its stunning nocturnal, debut and demise, because the bloom would wilt and die by daybreak.
Needless to say, when the time was near, the whole town gathered in the lobby of the Keystone Hotel in Fernandina Beach to watch the beauty unfold in the gathering dark. One can only suppose they watched it by candlelight - and few photos of the one hit wonder exist, for obvious reasons - so I've included a rather dashing drawing of the one I think my grandfather cultivated and showed to the world on that glamorous night of wonder.
As a writer, the whole idea of this flower blossoming only once, at night, gave me plenty of fodder for stories and I wrote one which I thought was hauntingly beautiful and mysterious. I was so caught up in the magic of this small, perfect, blossom that I made a critical mistake: I indulged my delight in the bloom and its magic to such an extent that nothing really happened in my story: there was no turning point, no crisis, no conflict, no resolution.
An astute friend of mine listened as I moaned about the narrative going nowhere, and how I didn't know how to make this story about a priceless and rare plant more thrilling, and she sighed with boredom and said, "Have someone drop the bloody thing on the floor."
I was horrified and appalled by her suggestion - I could not 'kill my darling' as William Faulkner would have suggested, had he been listening.
But sometimes that's what we have to do, because the writing isn't all about us and what we want - it's about our readers. Our creation/words/ideas/characters may be precious to us, we love them and cannot bear to part with them .. but if they serve no purpose to the story or the reader, then they will have to go.
I never did write that ending into my story about the night blooming cereus. I simply couldn't bear to kill off this gorgeous thing I'd written about. It broke my heart.
Lesson One: kill your darlings. Sometimes you have to.
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