Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.
It was William Faulkner who coined the phrase “kill your darlings” but I find Stephen King’s quote above more compelling.
What does it mean, exactly, to kill your darlings?
We all have darlings in our manuscripts, a paragraph we have fallen in love with, a powerful metaphor, a character we can’t part with, those are all darlings to us, writers. I’m sure you have at least one. Just think about it. Think hard. Theeeere it is. Now think again, is it still relevant to your story?
If your answer is yes, lucky you. If it is no, welcome to the club.
Today, I killed one of my beloved darlings: my opening paragraph. It had been irrelevant for months but I was still fighting to keep it. I was too attached to those words I once wrote, words that still resonated with me but no longer with my story. In fact, I did not only change my opening paragraph, I changed the order of my chapters too. Chapter 2 became chapter 1 and vice versa. Ah, the joys of multiple narratives.
You see, it is so easy to fall in love with your darlings but you must know when to let go. It is for your WIP’s best interest and consequently, for your best interest too. When I say let go, I don’t mean scrap the whole thing and mourn accordingly. I mean cut and paste it some place else. Cheat if you have to. Re-introduce it later in the story, give it a new voice, attribute it to a new character. If all fails, put it aside. You never know when you might need it again. After all, you are a writer and you will write another novel.
So far, my ex-opening paragraph (yes, it does feel like a break up) has not made it back in my second draft and it was not for want of trying. I tried hard to make this work but some things are not meant to last, they should be recycled instead. So maybe I should put my own spin on the quote above.
Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, and if it hurts your nostalgic scribbler’s heart, recycle your darlings.
It is important to be radical sometimes, and for now, my darling is sitting in a separate document, waiting to be resurrected. Or not. But what is interesting is that as soon as you replace your ex-darling with a new darling, the new darling becomes your darling 2.0 and suddenly, darling 1.0 seems bland. End IT metaphor here.
When do you know it is time to kill your darling?
Only you can decide on this but the good news is, no jail for this kind of murder. Wow, I really think I’m funny today. Here are the questions I had to ask myself before taking action:
- Is it still relevant to my story?
- How is it still relevant to my story? (this one should stump you if you cheated your way through question 1)
- Does it impact my story? (hint: the answer should be yes)
- If I were to remove it, would it be missed? (to clarify, would it be missed by the story, not you)
There you have it.
Do you have any darlings that need killing? Any darlings you have doubts about? Have you already killed one of your darlings and if so, why?
Because I’m so curious about you, I give you my ex-darling for free. Because caring is sharing (or was it the other way around?)
Have you ever flown over a coastline and looked down at the very edge where land meets the ocean? Waves come and go, steered by the wind, they crash against the cliffs and wash against the shore with light splashing sounds, they carry life within them, they rise and they fall in an eternal circle.
But from above, all you can see is a perfect line, soundless and smooth like the keys of an unplayed piano. You cannot hear the waves lapping on the shore and giving rise to a delicate murmur, like bubbles fizzing ever so quietly. You cannot see the sand whirling in and out of the ebb and flow, waltzing in the water. Life is seething at the edge of the ocean, but you see neither details nor motion. Just a clear contour. An illusion.
Come closer, lean in, and you will see a battlefront.