From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is for Kill your Darlings

I think this is one of the most common bits of writing advice thrown around, second only to "Write what you know" (which, incidentally, I think is pretty close to rubbish--it should instead be write what you want to find out.) The mandate to "Kill your darlings," though, I think has something to it.

We don't want to take any writing advice without a grain of salt, I don't think, and any tip taken to extreme becomes detrimental. We don't necessarily want to slash out every part of our novel that we love simply because we love it and it's our "darling." I don't think that's the point.

The point of this bit of advice, in my mind, is about willingness. Keeping this in mind has helped me in the editing process when I start feeling whishy washy. For example, if there is a scene that I spent a lot of time on but it just does not end up moving plot or character and simply isn't necessary, that needs to be cut. Or if there's a phrase or sentence that I fall in love with but it is in a paragraph that ends up being hard to understand or just sort of out there, then that paragraph needs to be cut. Those are the kinds of things that happen to me in the editing process where I feel like the reminder to "kill your darlings" is a good one.

So I think what I'm saying is that in general its probably not a good idea to either hack at your babies willy-nilly, or keep them all locked in immovable stone cages. I think it needs to be more organic then that. Some darlings will shine and can stay, some darlings will only be mucking up the whole and maybe its not so much killing them but saving them for later. I think the key is just to be willing to do what it takes, because the real darling is your book as a whole.

What do you think? Is it harder or easier for you to kill your darlings?

Sarah Allen


  1. it's always hard to cut but sometimes it's necessary, plus you can always save those leftover bits for some other stories.

    I guess I always imagine that books should be like movies in which we have multiple versions like 'the writer's cut', 'editor's version' or 'the long version' or 'the super, super short version'. wouldn't that be nice? of cause that's too much but it's nice to dream.

    have a sweet day.

  2. I cut and slash all the time, but I'm much more likely to mourn my darlings and really consider if they need to go. The answer is usually yes, because if it wasn't I wouldn't be asking the question.

  3. Fortunately my editor was kind and didn't make me kill too many of these. Either that or he didn't see too many....

  4. This is the second post I've read today on cutting, gutting, and killing your words, characters, etc. Editing is a very violent business! :D

    But it's very true. When you go into editing, be willing to rewrite the entire thing minus everything you love. You won't have to, but having that mindset will make the task seem less daunting. It's polishing a diamond: leave nothing behind but the sparkliest and prettiest bits. :)

  5. Usually once you cut it you can't remember why it was so important to keep it.

  6. Depends on the darling. With some it only hurts for a second. With others it's like major surgery without anesthetic.

  7. Some years ago, I read an article by Roger Zelazny, a famed SF writer. He spoke about something he had learned from Ernest Hemingway. Really, it was more along the lines of "create some extra darlings and then put them away, perhaps to use another time or perhaps not" . He suggested that you should create an entire scene which would tell more about your character, then cut it. What was left would have more depth to it. He had found this worked for him and sometimes used the cut bits for another story about the character.

  8. I gave serious consideration to writing about this topic for K. I'm so glad you did. Great post!


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