Improve Your Writing: Kill Your Darlings

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It’s advice you hear over and over and over again…

For good reason.

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

-Stephen King

What are your “darlings”?

They’re your favorite parts of your manuscript. Beautiful, brilliantly-written passages of description, quirky, lovable side characters, bits of dialogue that are just so witty and smart you can’t believe you came up with them.

But the thing is? To turn your work into the best it can be, you need to tighten it. In general, writers return to their first drafts to cut out the parts that aren’t working.

And it’s very possible that those parts are your darlings.

See, when you fall in love with a particular bit of your writing–it’s hard to see it objectively, as part of the whole. You just know you love this sentence, this character. You can’t cut it. It’s brilliant.

But to get from first draft to polished manuscript–you need to be ruthless. You can’t keep something in just because you love it. It has to work with the rest of the story–not only that, it has to be crucial to the story. Anything not crucial to the story has to go.

So how to decide if you really need it?

First–and I know this is hard–try not to read your favorite parts of your manuscript over and over and over again. I know that’s hard to do, especially when you’re feeling down on yourself and your talents. But committing your own writing to memory is the opposite of what you want to do–when it comes time to edit, you want to be able to be objective.

Second, take a break. It’s much, much easier to be objective when you’ve gotten some distance.

Third–and this is really the one that helped me the most–remember that just because this passage, this character, this sentence doesn’t work in this story, doesn’t mean it won’t work somewhere, someday.

Do what I do: open up a new Word document. Label it “My Darlings.” Then in the editing phase, instead of deleting your darlings, copy and paste them into this document. It makes it so much easier to cut things out when you’re not throwing them away for good. And you could be enriching your future writing with these gems–you never know!

This is all easier said than done–believe me, I know. But it will make your writing so much tighter and therefore, better.

Any darling-killing tips I missed? Let me know!

Adorable image found somewhere on Tumblr

2 thoughts on “Improve Your Writing: Kill Your Darlings

  1. I do the separate outtakes folder. Sometimes they do end up useful somewhere else. in general, though, I hate the whole “kill your darlings” thing–it seems to me to play into the whole suffering artist myth.

    Like

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