Have you heard the term “kill your darlings”?
This is a phrase often used by editors or famous literary folk when they talk of getting rid of excess words/phrases/heft in a work of literature.
Let’s face it, it sounds much cooler to say…”kill your darlings” than it does to say “Hey Dude…you should edit some crap outta here.”
The term was apparently coined by William Faulkner and is used by Stephen King in his book On Writing (which if you haven’t read, I’d highly recommend).
Let’s break it down a bit.
What are the “darlings”?
The darlings are your creations.
The characters, the sub-plots, the wonderful phrases that flowed so beautifully, and all those words you used to build up your story.
BUT–yes, there’s always a but– if those words etc. don’t move the story forward, or add value to the story, then you must be ruthless and cut, cut, cut!
Phew… believe me, I know that’s not an easy task. It’s painful.
What Do I Kill?
It really is a ruthless exercise. You must be tough and really cut the excess. Often times we need to read the work out loud to know what needs cutting. Our eyes lie to us and tell us that all the beautiful work is worthy of staying within the story but we know it’s a lie.
When we read another author’s work we have no issues in seeing what needs to be cut. We must use that same ruthlessness on our own work… hence the slaughter of the darlings…
A writer wants his words to be seen and appreciated–fussed over and loved–but so many times they end up in a heap of sentimental fragments and debris littering the floor.
Don’t sweep up. Don’t take all those lovely darlings and trash them.
Oh my, no, no, no.
That would break my heart and you don’t want to see me ugly cry.
So, NOW WHAT?
Okay the darlings have been killed, but there’s still heart and soul attached to those words.
For every project–whether a short story, a novel, a freelance article–have a separate file with the “same name-dash-dead darlings”.
So, an example. If you’re writing a novel called The Rain Falls Down then you should have two working files at all times.
The first is The Rain Falls Down–Novel
The second is The Rain Falls Down–Dead Darlings
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
Heck yeah! Never delete your work–EVER.
You have no idea when or where you may want to use that character or plot again.
By keeping the Dead Darling files you’ll never have to dig through the recesses of your brain trying to find or remember anything because it’s all right there. You may never refer to them again but as soon as you delete them, you’ll be sorry.
As writers we pour our hearts onto the page and while we need to kill our darlings, we don’t need to delete them too.
That just seems cruel.