Friday, September 3, 2010

Kill yer Darlins; kill yer darlins; kill yer darlins, Clementine . . .

I was round to Nathan Bransford’s blog today, and he mentioned the “kill your darlings” phrase that has been attributed to authors, but I am not really sure who first came up with that gem.



I’ve killed me some darlin's in my time, let me tell you what! However, I do remember a time when I didn’t know just what that meant—I mean, I knew in theory kind of sort of, but in reality it only confused me. I could see the obvious phrases or words that could come out, but “Darlings?” What the heck is a Darling? I often thought, and would tear my clothes asunder.


How would I know a darling to be able to kill it?



That, my friends, is the burning question that I'm afraid cannot be answered by any writer giving advice, much as we may try. This, I believe, is one of those “Unteachable Things” that writers really must figure out on their own, in their own way. They must have their AHA moment(s) and then the mists lift and things become clear—or not, and then it’s a whole lot of guessing or hoping or experimenting or jumping up and down on our manuscripts and screaming and then running nekkid down the street pulling out our hair.

However, it does become easier. Things do become clear. The "Kill Your Darlings" begins to make sense to you - with practicing your craft. With writing and writing and re-writing and re-writing. It happens more often with second books than with first books, and even more with third books and beyond. The Delete Key becomes our best friend. Why? I dunno; well, I do, but that's a whole nuther bunches of words and this will be too long as it is.


Knowing every Darlin' to Kill verses Prose That Should Stay is, well, at times subjective, and at other times necessary, at some times clear and sweet, and at other times we run down the street nekkid screaming and pulling out our hair.


Have you ever watched deleted scenes in a movie and thought, “Oh geez, so glad they took that out!” But of course we are seeing the deleted scenes in the context of what we’ve just watched. Imagine if those deleted scenes were still in the movie—some of them may bring out a “why did they put that in there?” or “I’m bored right now;” and then others may fit right in without a glitch. But one thing is for certain, most all of the time the deleted scenes are not missed as we watch the final movie-product. It isn’t as if we are sitting there saying, “Something is missing here, I wonder if they deleted a scene?” Then again, there may be times we say, “Wait, something is missing here . . .” ah, isn’t it an ever-moving vague wavery line made of pencil that can be erased and replaced, erased and replaced, and even misplaced?


We have to use our own judgment and instincts to kill our darlin’s - unless you want to trust someone else to kill them for you . . . someone who can be cold and impersonal and . . . well, Word Murderous. I believe I have finally become Word Murderous with my manuscripts, and even in my murderous state, I am sure there are darlin's I leave, because, well, I wanna that's why.


I’ve said it before: there is no magic. There is only the writing and tweaking and rewriting and editing and hoping and dreaming and doing the best we can.


How many times have you written something you thought was GOLDEN plucked straight from the GOLDEN tree of GOLDEN words, and then when you sent your work out into the world with glee, no one mentions that GOLDEN part--what? they didn't notice your GOLDEN words! Heathens! Blasphemers! Cretins!--, but instead, they mention some other part you hadn’t even paid attention to, and in fact, you almost deleted that scene because it seemed so, well, NOT GOLDEN. We writers aren’t always the best judge of what a reader will respond to and love. That's reassuring while darling killing, isn't it? huhn.


Killing our Darlings can be one of the most frustrating or scary exercises in our writing, but it can deliver our prose to a higher level of "oh, hey . .  ." Friends, all we can do is practice our craft, practice practice practice practice, use our best instincts, did I say practice?, and when it's all said and The End'ed, hope for the best.


What do you have to say about Killing your Darlings?

25 comments:

Marisa Birns said...

So very true. I find that killing the darlings is easier if one asks this question, "Does it move the story forward or is it just a purdy piece of writing that is merely decorative and not useful?"

That's not to mean we can't save it to use in another story if it fits.

Yep, practice, practice, practice is the only way forward.

Diane said...

Wish I could invent that Golden Tree. I'm gonna go and try to graft it to my money tree this weekend... :O)

ficwriter said...

So glad you didn't delete this little darlin'. "Knowing every Darlin' to Kill verses Prose That Should Stay is, well, at times subjective, and at other times necessary, at some times clear and sweet, and at other times we run down the street nekkid screaming and pulling out our hair." :)

Sharla said...

I know when I read that from Stephen King's "On Writing" about killing your darlings...I was like, wait...no...I don't wanna. At that time, several years ago, I had a giant mammoth of a book with no rules...and I killed not only my darlin's but all their extended families as well.

Now, I'm so picky about what I put in to begin with, I'm hoping there won't be too many murders in my wake... :)) LOL

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

My writing just continues to evolve to better and better (I hope!) understandings. I think this is where the million words idea comes in ... :)

KarenG said...

What you're writing from a mountain too and I haven't been a follower here??? Well, that is now remedied! Great blog, I love your kill the darlings post. Let me tell you tho it's easier to kill your own than to get an author you're editing to kill theirs. Wow, talk about creating a revolution. Then they do it and thank you for it later!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Hi! I popped over from Karen's blog BBQ to say hello. I think we need to be able to kill them now and again, but it is not an easy thing. :-)

Lynda Young said...

It's hard to kill the darlings but necessary. it's why I always take a break before editing. It gives me distance so I'm more able to identify the darlings that need to go.
Lyn
W.I.P. It: A Writer's Journey

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi, I came over from Karen's BBQ and have really enjoyed reading through your posts and looking at the art. A blog in which I feel right at home.
I'm learning to kill darlings. I find it easier to do when I start a revision in a new document, knowing that the old one still exists. It doesn't seem so brutal that way. ;)

demery bader-saye said...

May have to off some darlings soon... got feedback from an agent today. It's so hard to go back sometimes and start again - or to patch up the holes left when we wrench our darlings out of the story. But necessary. Necessary.

john bord said...

Darlin's for me come in two forms, awkward syntax and style. So often my style does not set with some and they want to change it and like a previous commenter said, is very subjective. Awkward creation deserves a death but I have to be careful about the style when making changes.

My biggest question is, ....Does darlin' help the story?

good things to ponder
thx

Anonymous said...
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MT said...

Hey, I'm part of KarenG's blog BBQ too. Great things you've got going on over here. Cheers!

Karen said...

I agree! I'm having to kill lots of darlings in my WIP and find the "golden" words to replace.

Deb Shucka said...

I don't kill mine, just put them somewhere nice to rest, so I know they're there if I want to visit. Eventually most of them lose their magic as I work to create new darlings all the time.

Titus said...

Great post.
I wonder if it's easier with poetry?
from
a serial killer

Stacy Post said...

For me, sometimes it's a character, sometimes it's a scene and *gulp* sometimes even an entire chapter! I'm learning better ways to manage the task, but it's still hard to do. A little time apart from the story often helps. Great topic, Kat!

Angie Ledbetter said...

I can't kill mine outright...so I put 'em in the holding tank (a separate doc) just in case I ever want 'em back, or to use them again somewhere else.

It's part of the Italian, po-growing-up syndrome. Waste not, want not. LOL

Love your blog. And you. :)

Kathryn Magendie said...

Hi y'all - thanks for stopping by and leaving nice comments *smiling* -- and hello and thank you to new followers; appreciate you all!

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh this is right where I am at with my memoir. It is in its fifth draft and I have a maybe agent in the wings waiting on the re-writes... which words stay, which words go???? Kill the darlings, yes. But somedays all the words look like darlings to me. And other days none of them do. AHHHH! Such is a writer's life hey :)

Thank you for finding me on facebook. I now follow your blog.

Anonymous said...

Great topic, Kat, and a subject I learned about many years ago. My first experience was with poetry when my critique group agreed that entire lines must go. Sadly at the time I just deleted, but now I've learned to store my darlins away in another doc.
I feel much better when I know they aren't dead, but just "away."

Ann Best said...

Such a creative way to say we must slash, slash, slash our way through our manuscript. I will now always remember "killing darlings."

Thanks so much for coming over to my blog from KarenG's BBQ. I am having so much fun meeting some wonderful new writers, all of whose about to be published and published books I want to read!!

I am now your follower too.
Ann

A Cuban In London said...

And do they prosecute you for killing them? :-)

Greetings from London.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I hope I don't have to be Word Murderous today - dang.... my poor darlin's! :-D

Kittie Howard said...

Tis hard but it's gotta be done. I hear ya! I need to hear my nagging voice more...for we know when it's darlin', we know.