Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Kill Your Darlings

"When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story." 
                                                                                                                                                                  Stephen King (On Writing)

There comes a time when we all have to commit novel carnage. It could be a minor character who does nothing for the plot. It could be our favourite scene/line/chapter that goes nowhere. But, sooner or later, we have to kill our darlings.

I'll admit that I'm a writer that has no trouble torturing my characters. As much as I enjoy creating the story on a blank page, I love the revision process. I edit ruthlessly. I'll cut adverbs and redundant dialogue tags all day, but even I'll admit that killing my darlings is hard sometimes.

We've spent hours in the worlds we create. We've poured our heart and soul into those words. We want to hug those scenes that make us giggle because we remember writing them. We send the draft off to our CP's and wait. They'll love it as much as we do, right?

Possibly. But the best thing, other than seeing a smiley face in the margin, is that they'll also notice all those little bits you are unsure of. They hone in on scenes that don't advance the plot. They suggest the line we love more than cookies could be cut to tighten the pace. They point out that character who is only in one scene and doesn't do anything. 

We can cry and stamp our feet. We can put our fingers in our ears and go "la la la la la," but it won't change what we know deep down -- sometimes we have to kill our darlings. And we ponder over it. Delete it and paste it back. Delete it and read it again. And it's better without it. So we send them into the deleted scenes file then cross our fingers we'll use them one day.

Sometimes those words have to take a sacrifice for the team. 


  1. Oh so very true :) I love the revision process also, and I've gotten pretty good at ruthlessly cutting what needs to be cut. But yes, even I have a hard time letting go of particular scenes. In fact, as you know, I finally ended up cutting a whole chapter from Treasured Lies that had made it through every revision I'd done. I loved that scene (still love it) but it added nothing to the story really...didn't advance the plot. And I needed the wordage for more important things. So *le sigh* that scene definitely took one for the team :)

  2. This is one of the best books on the craft that I've read. Loved his take on writing and his sense of humor :)

  3. Killing your darlings is never easy, but when revision calls for it, your manuscript is always better for it. Love the Stephen King quote!

  4. Taking one for the team... It's a nice way to put it. I'll have to remember that next time I'm mourning the loss of a favorite phrase.:(

  5. Great book, great post! I've had to kill some darling metaphors that shouted, "Hey, look how clever I am!" The author is supposed to remain invisible, just the one typing behind the scenes.

  6. Very true. Sometimes the ship has to go down, with or without the captain on board.


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