For some, it’s a fundamental and obvious piece of writing advice that they’ve practiced for years. To others, it sounds so odd that following it would be detrimental to your writing. Because why would you want to kill your darlings? Aren’t they supposed to be cherished and nurtured? This post will show what the phrase means and how to commit the brutal act. Hopefully, this post will show you how killing a darling or two will improve your writing.
Kill Your Darlings is a kind of writer’s mantra. It reminds you that deleting the parts of the story you are most attached to will sometimes improve it. It could be a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, or even a character. And it’s painful. But if it isn’t contributing anything, it must be removed, no matter how much you love the writing. Editing is rough.
Following the principle means prioritising your entire piece instead of all the small elements that create it, and it takes practice to view your writing in this way. With so many moving parts, something like a novel can be almost impossible to view objectively, but this is one piece of advice that depends on that and helps the writer get to that place. Cutting what doesn’t need to be there is vital, and killing your darlings certainly falls into this general advice. It’s the most brutal version of it.
Complex descriptions and purple prose are typical examples of darlings that need killing. These passages fall into the darling category because the writer has spent much time writing them with beautiful language. But they rarely contribute anything that couldn’t be written quite simply. Instead of delighting the reader, they get in the way.
How to Kill Your Darlings?
The simplest and easiest way – and this is what I do – is to copy the text somewhere else. I tell myself that I’ll use it later for another story. Ninety percent of the time, I’m lying to myself, but it’s a good lie because it allows me to remove the writing that doesn’t need to be there without hesitation. In general, I don’t have a problem with discipline, yet I still need this lie to help me edit well. It’s tough, and I’m not on the brutal level of Gordon Lish yet.
I’ve invited editors and friends to read my stories and asked them about certain scenes and lines that I suspect could be darlings. If they don’t have much to say, it goes some way to confirming my suspicion. That writing probably means a lot more to me than it ever will to my readers; this gives me the strength to remove it.
The final thing I want to say is that it does feel good to do it. But, even if it feels painful making the cuts, you must follow through. You will notice the improvement when you read the writing through again. So, sharpen those blades and ready yourself for war.