Kill Your Darlings
by Renee Shadel
This old writing advice has been passed down from teacher to student since the early 1900s, and by many authors such as William Faulkner, Agatha Christie, John Gardner, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman just to name a few, in some form or another. The definition or items covered under its umbrella have expanded over the centuries.
Most writers agree a “darling” is:
- Purple prose (flowery, sentimental or cheesy writing)
- Writing that gives an effect not intended by the writer (i.e. serious, but coming across humorous)
- Incongruous diction
Across the web and other places writers have expanded the definition to include a chapter, scene, character or POV that obscures plot or flow but the writer doesn’t want to nix it because they are too fond or proud to rework it.
Really, only one thing matters. Is it boring or annoying to the reader? When you’re too close to the immaculate birth of your masterpiece you tend to protect it. Like a parent who thinks their child can do no wrong but like any real human being it may be riddled with flaws.
- Read it out loud – if it trips you up it needs to go or be reworked
- Step away and come back with a more critical unemotional approach.
- Group Critique (come visit us!)
Remedies to ease the pain:
- My favorite is to put the darling in a folder or document and label it Cannibalize, especially for poetry. Writers have named it the graveyard, R.I.P., recycling, tombstone 1, dumpster, etc.
- Make it a footnote, use the strikethrough tool until you’re absolutely sure you want to delete it.
- If your darling stands alone or is a character ready to retire from a story but you don’t want to give them up – start a new piece just for them!
- Ask yourself, is there a way to make the darling more congruent with the plot, theme, or objective of the story?
Remember, writing is a craft; like whittling wood we cut and shape our stories or poems until they clearly express our objective without taking the reader out of the story.
Renee Shadel is a mom of one daughter and her lovable labrador. She has a Bachelor’s in English/Creative Writing from the University of Toledo and intermittently tells stories and rambles through her thoughts at dryadswearthepants.com.