Slaughter the darlings with a blunt pen-knife

blunt_pen_knife
It’ll hurt, but it’ll be worth it

I’ve now heard three different people saying how silly it is to ‘kill your darlings’ when you’re writing.

“Why would you delete the bits you love most?” they ask.

So, I wrote a blog post on the topic so that next time someone says it, I can say, ‘Here’s a link I prepared earlier’, and skip merrily from the scene.

I remember the first time I heard ‘kill your darlings’. I was about 16, and I had an allergic reaction to it too. As I’m sure William Faulkner intended.

We love our precious stories and our precious words. I get it. I’m a writer too, and I *know* how much your words mean to you.

But all ‘kill your darlings’ means (to paraphrase) is: ‘Even if you’ve got a brilliant metaphor/scene, if it doesn’t fit your story, you shouldn’t use it’.

If it enhances your story, it’s not a darling. It’s a ‘best bit’. They’re different.

Take, for example, that bit you wrote at the end of Chapter 1. And you love it because it gives such insight into Elena. Because she *totally* eats marmalade that way, glooping it all over the toast. And the marmalade mixes with the hot butter and oozes onto her fingers and she has to lick it off her elbows. And the scene is surprising and telling, because in the hat-shop she was so strait-laced that she wouldn’t even look at Clara, who was only trying to be friendly. And you also love how you described the marmalade as ‘bittersweet, like her memories of Seville’ because it hints at her past so neatly and lets you mention that she’s been to Seville, which will be so important in Chapter 10.

Yes, you did a great bit of writing, a great bit of characterization. It’s the bit you like best in Chapter 1.

Seville
Ah, Seville!

But wait, because it’s not a darling yet. It might genuinely just be a great bit of writing.

Only, you come back to edit Chapter 1, and you realise that if the Prime Minister is to fall over Elena’s hat-box (which he is, because plot), then she’ll have to be eating in public, NOT in her room.

Fine. No worries. You put her in the hotel restaurant, licking that marmalade off her wrists.

Only…wait. She’s strait-laced. She has to be, with the upbringing she’s had. And anyway, her whole reputation is based on her impeccable manners. That’s how she gets made tutor to the young prince in Chapter 7. She’d NEVER lick marmalade in public.

 

marmalade
Nope. Not in public.

 

Oh, but you SO want to leave it in. Because it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. Genuinely. It’s…here it comes…it’s your darling.

So, you know what you do, you leave it in. You put her in the corner. You have her lick surreptitiously. But the scene has lost impact and you know it. The character is acting as she never would. But you need to show she can be sensuous and abandoned and…

So now, when the reader reads the scene, they get this character who acts all hoity in the hat-shop, and then proceeds to lick marmalade off her fingers in a fancy hotel restaurant. And so we have a totally different view of her character. And we’re confused. And we wonder why the Prime Minister doesn’t remark on her sticky fingers when he kisses her hand…

…and anyway, she’s having lunch, and who eats marmalade on toast at lunchtime? Certainly not Elena, with her love of etiquette.

And that’s what ‘kill your darlings’ means.  That’s all it means. So kill them, please. We readers don’t want your spoiled brats ruining your great scene/chapter/book.

Be ruthless.

Ever killed a darling? Do you remember what it was? Tell me about it in the comments. I will send bouquets.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for describing the meaning so well … and so hilariously! I get it now. 🙂 In fact, I’ve just had to slaughter one of mine this morning involving a Victorian gentleman spooning broth down his throat without getting his moustache drenched. I so loved that little scene, but it’s gone now. p.s. I like orange roses.

    Liked by 1 person

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