Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kill Your Darlings

It's an old expression in the writing world, advice originally given by William Faulkner (though it was probably said in different ways long before him). The full line is, "In writing, you must kill your darlings." Stephen King added to it: "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings."

When writing your drafts, it can mean don't be afraid of offing characters, even if you really, really love them. Sometimes, it's necessary to move the plot forward. Sometimes, you just need a good murder to build conflict. Sometimes, even though you like the character, that character's really a complete and utter jerk and would only tick off your readers. Nix him. This is the one time when murder's actually legal (oh, and so very therapeutic).
When revising, it can mean don't be afraid to delete those passages or even whole chapters where the story just isn't working. The scene may be gorgeous--filled with passion and prose and beautiful imagery--but, if it doesn't move the plot forward, it's useless. Unless you're writing a literary novel. They seem to be filled with useless passages that get all prosaic about trees or doors or may flies. (Sorry, I'm not a huge literary novel gal. I much prefer my stories to be fun-filled and action-packed. I'm shallow like that.)

But, even if you take Faulkner's advice, don't delete those words completely. Generally when I write, I have a "dead words" file for each project. Even though a scene or character doesn't work in its current incarnation, it might be perfect for something else down the road. Or maybe it'll never leave that file and stay buried forever. That's okay, too.

1 comment:

  1. I've titled my dump word collection file "graveyard". It's where I put all those extra lines that were oh-so-clever, but they bog down the story too much.

    I find it's very inspiring to read through it, but most of the time I can't recycle anything from it. (Because there's a reason they were cut in the first place.) I think it's now about 60 pages long...