Friday, March 14, 2014

Joy of sight 3: Kill your darlings

"Kill your darlings."  What does this mean?

It has been explained to me like this: 
"If you think you’ve written something particularly lovely, it probably needs to be deleted."

An author will create scenes, turns of phrase, dialogue, and characters whom (s)he loves.  It is inevitable.  If we are supposed to kill our darlings does that mean we cut those scenes on the basis of our love?  Perhaps I am naive, but I say no! 

Instead, I believe "killing your darlings" is a reminder an author must learn to approach self-editing dispassionately.  Writing and editing should be distinct functions. Each has its own place in the bicameral system governing the creation of a story. 

When it's time to write, an author should feel free to write anything. The writer has absolute freedom to put words on page.

When it's time to self-edit, an author should feel free to remove or change anything. Anything and everything!

The problem "kill your darlings" addresses is temporal.  Writing always precedes editing.  Since authors tend to love (or love to hate) what they write, they develop an emotional connection to their work.  Emotional connection will get in the way of self-editing if an author lets it.

Where the phrase came from I haven't the foggiest.  Perhaps "kill your darlings" was once a mental exercise to strengthen the sovereignty of the self-editor function.  Pick your favorite character.  Would the story be stronger if you killed him/her?  If so, do it.

George RR seemingly turned this exercise into a formula that has produced wildly popular novels. And we've all probably heard the adage that goes something along the lines of "if you become stuck in your writing, kill off a character."

But you don't have to kill what you love.  The point is you must free your mind to pull the trigger or hit the delete button if it improves your tale.  Don't let your love bias the editing process. 

The self-editor must look at everything with critical eyes. If anything in your manuscript doesn't serve the story, and serve it efficiently, then it needs revision. 

So don't let yourself be a slave to so-called rules of writing. Instead, work to tell the story that needs telling even if doing so means cutting parts you love. That's my take on it.

A fine reminder to edit dispassionately:  Kill your darlings.    





  1. Hi Bryon
    A famous author came up with that phrase though I can't remember who is was now. Maybe Hemmingway. I have experienced many times when something I loved pulled the reader out of the story. I usually discovered this through my critique partners. I can honestly say that after revision the end product was always better.

  2. Sorry I got your name wrong, Byron.