Strangle Your Chapters, Not Your Babies

balzac

This blog post by Daniel Baum summarizes how I feel about the sections of my book I deleted that I’m still holding hope of squeezing back in (I cut more than a hundred pages, though, and there are only about twenty that I want to stick back in, so it’s not like I want to keep ALL of it). I hate the title, though. Clever if you’re not a parent. Sick if you are. The quote from Samuel Johnson, by the way, made me think of the story of Rodin chopping off the hands of his statue when his students commented on how amazing they were (which detracted from the rest of the statue).

Here is the story, from Laos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing:

Rodin, the great French sculptor, had just finished the statue of Honore de Balzac. The figure wore a long robe with long loose sleeves. The hands were folded in front.
Rodin stepped back, exhausted but triumphant, and eyed his work with satisfaction. It was a masterpiece!
Like any artist, he needed someone to share his happiness. Although it was four o’clock in the morning, he hastened to wake up one of his students.
The master rushed ahead with mounting excitement and watched the young man’s reaction.
The student’s eyes slowly focused upon the hands.
“Wonderful!” he cried. “What hands… Master, I’ve never seen such marvelous hands before!”
Rodin’s face darkened. A moment later Rodin swept out of his studio again. A short while later he returned with another student in tow.
The reaction was almost the same. As Rodin watched eagerly, the pupil’s gaze fastened on the hands of the statue and stayed there.
“Master,” the student said reverently,”only a God could have created such hands. They are alive!”
Apparently Rodin had expected something else, for once more he was off, now in a frenzy. When he returned he was dragging another bewildered student with him.
“Those hands… those hands…” the new arrival exclaimed, in the same reverent tone as the others,”if you had never done anything else, Master, those hands would make you immortal!”
Something must have snapped in Rodin, for with a dismayed cry he ran to a corner of the studio and grabbed a fearful looking axe. He advanced toward the statue with the apparent intention of smashing it to bits.
Horror stricken, his students threw themselves upon him, but in his madness he shook them off with superhuman strength. He rushed to the statue and with one well aimed blow, chopped off the magnificent hands.
Then he turned to his stupefied pupils, his eyes blazing.
“Fools!” he cried. “I was forced to destroy these hands because they had a life of their own. They didn’t belong to the rest of the composition. Remember this, and remember it well: no part is more important than the whole!”
And that’s why the statue of Balzac stands in Paris, without hands. The long loose sleeves of the robe appear to cover the hands, but in reality Rodin chopped them off because they seemed to be more important than the whole figure.
Neither the premise nor any other part of a play has a separate life of its own. All must blend into a harmonious whole.

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