Killing Your Darlings

In the spirit of October, I wanted to discuss something that might be a little bit scary. And what’s scarier than murder?

Killing your darlings sounds harsh, and it can hurt! Essentially, you are taking something you like in your story (whether a character, scene, concept, etc.) and removing it for the greater good.

You might be asking: if a darling is a piece of the story that a writer likes, why would they want to kill it?

While writers find darlings…well, darling…they often do not add to the story at large––and sometimes they even weaken it. Everything in a story has to serve a purpose, and sometimes revising requires cutting good chunks that don’t quite service the story.

 “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

William Faulkner

Hunting for darlings:

Finding darlings can be just as hard as killing them. Sometimes you, as the writer, are blinded to pieces of the story that aren’t working.

A darling could be:

  • A scene you love that doesn’t seem to fit or work with the rest of the story.
  • Too much backstory, description, or world building. If you find yourself info-dumping, you probably have a darling on your hands.
  • Weak characters that don’t serve a relevant purpose.
  • A piece of the story that confuses or sticks out to Beta readers/critique partners.
  • Or something else entirely… like a title, the story’s ending, or the opening line (to name a few!).

Because darlings are something you hold dear, it can be a bit tough to determine where those moments exist. A good rule of thumb is to think about the journey of your story’s hero and the arc planned for them. If it doesn’t impact the hero, their story, or their development, then it might just be a darling.

The darling is in position:

Congratulations you have hunted down your darling and now it has nowhere to run!

To kill or not to kill, that is the question?

Just like your hero might have a debate before setting off on their journey, you will most likely have some internal conflict on whether or not to gut your darling. (I’m usually on the side of making your pages bleed during the editing process, and didn’t Mr. Faulkner say to kill ALL the darlings?)

But when deciding whether or not to cut, ask yourself:

  • If you cut it, does the story still make sense?
  • Would cutting it require writing a different scene?
  • Is there a better way to convey the same information?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you know what you’re going to have to do…

Time to go in for the kill:

Once a darling is identified and you have determined that it needs to go, all you have to do is pull the trigger. Killing the darling might require removing it completely or doing some heavy revision.

Tips for killing your darlings:

  • Only kill while you are editing. Since the drafting process is you telling yourself the story, keep everything in until the story is told. Then hack it to bloody bits during revisions.
  • Listen to your critique partners and beta readers. When writing a story, you have and objective lens (always). An outsiders perspective will be more receptive of what doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story. They might not outright tell you it’s a darling! But look out for places where the reader was bored, where something didn’t make sense, or it took them out of the story.
  • Whenever you kill a darling (especially if it is an entire scene or chapter) keep it saved and filed away. If it’s a darling, there’s something you like about it, and that hard work could come in handy on a rainy day.
  • Let go of your ego. You might think it is the best sentence you have ever written, but guess what? You will write a better one. Ditch it and move on!
  • Remember, at the end of the day, all aspects of the story should serve a purpose! Kill what doesn’t serve that purpose.

Thank you for reading! Please like, comment, and follow the Newbie to Novelist blog and find me on Instagram. Let me know what topic you would like to see next!

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