The Feel-Good Horror Show

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So many darlings. Dead. My hands awash in their blood.

That’s what I tweeted after some major restructuring of the introduction to my first A List Apart article for the x-teenth time. Of course, you may know that I’m referencing Arthur Quiller-Couch’s oft-cited advice for writers: Murder your darlings.

In the longest version of my talk about mixing color on the web, I meander from history, to blending modes, to Bob Ross, to comic books and more. Because of this, I think it makes for an expansive and hopefully interesting talk. It’s fun to connect these disparate themes, weave in some running jokes, and ultimately bring them together for one big idea. But I wanted to turn it into an article for A List Apart, and they have some editorial guidelines for their contributors. In particular, there’s a word limit that’s stringent enough that I can’t hope to cram a forty-five minute talk into. This is where I had to start making decisions.

It was easy to cut out the part about luminosity media queries: no browsers or devices support them yet, so there are not too many concrete facts worth talking about right now. Cutting out blending modes was also fine, because I had enough content there to turn it into a second article. After that, it started to get tricky.

Going over the history of color on the web is good for establishing context, and there are a lot of young designers who don’t appreciate the challenges we’ve faced in the past. However, it wasn’t strictly necessary for proving my thesis, and it got in the way of getting to the point. Out it goes.

There was the bit about Bob Ross. Now, Ross was a real darling. His part in the talk helped illustrate how artists see color, as well as how they mix pigments together to create new colors. Furthermore, I used him as a running joke in the talk version, which got good laughs (as long as the audience knew who he was). “Do I really have to cut it?” I wondered to myself. The real question was, did this article need it? I decided I could make my point without the illustration, so, yes, I murdered Bob Ross.

There was a lengthy paragraph about the color in comic books. I felt it was an important paragraph, you see, because the evolution of color in comics parallels the evolution of color on the web. Sure, it’s more history, which I already cut out of the article, but this is also where the title of the talk came from. I can’t call it “Painting the Perfect Sunset” if I don’t reference any sunsets! Once again, it just wasn’t essential to the point, and though I really wanted to cover it, I cut it, and then I changed the title.

Despite my sacrifices, the article is better for it. I feel like it’s the strongest explanation of color mixing I’ve written so far. Murdering your darlings is hard, but the difference between that and actual murder, is that you feel better about yourself when you’re done editing.

When it came time to write my second article, I worked in a particular bit of cleverness that my editor didn’t think was working. After a second attempt, she politely suggested, “I think you should kill this particular darling.” I couldn’t argue with that.

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