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?