Stop Killing Your Darlings.

A common piece of editing advice I see all the time is :

Kill off your darlings. Don’t be scared to remove chunks of your work, even if it feels precious to you.

And I say; don’t be afraid to keep chunks of it, if it serve a purpose.

I say if it’s a passage that’s you have been told you don’t need, but it is really hard to part with, try using it somewhere else. Don’t destroy it or erase it. You won’t remember how you worded it weeks or months later. And besides, it was you who created it. Clever, witticism, deep profound paradigms aren’t as easy to come up with as they seems. It’s your darling. Treat it accordingly.

Save it, so you can enter it later in your piece of work or if you are doing a series; use for another book.

Remember, it’s you the writer who is dreaming up the manuscript. Not the editor. No one knows exactly how it goes except you.

Don’t merciless butcher your work. Remember, you are writing a novel, painting a full mental image not a creating a pamphlet to sell a timeshare.

Ok, if it was unimportant it wouldn’t be called a darling and, you, the author wouldn’t have put it in manuscript. Quite contrary to belief, most writers seek to use as little words as possible. Some scenes are difficult to bring to life with a minimizing of words.

I often see slain darlings throughout novels and it leaves a novel with more holes than Swiss cheese and the editor try to fill in all the gaping holes with emotions. Readers can detect when something has been removed.

Don’t do it.

Don’t try and plug the literary holes with a bunch of whining and crying, falling and stumbling. Emotions are very important to build a crescendo but too much and many outbursts drags a story down.

Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence is a good example of why you ‘don’t‘ kill off your darlings. Why would she need to have gone into some depths to display many different sides of her characters? I mean these were just a bunch of self-serving American aristocrats but she gave her readers a full dose of her darlings with the opening scene of opera setting and seating. Who sat where and why. The importance of the seating paved the way for the rest of the story. It told who was influential and who were not. Who would cause trouble, refusing to conform, and who would be passive.

Another thing, most modern readers expect the darlings to be killed off. Don’t do it. Surprise your readers. Most readers feel they can predict the end of most novels. No matter how well-written, most readers find that their darling is going to die in the end. Spice things up. Give your readers a surprise ending they were not expecting.

About unholypursuit

A. White, an award winning former librarian, who is also a long time member of Romantic Time and Publisher's Weekly. A. White has been writing for over fifteen years. She took classes in creative writing in college, specializing in ancient myths and legends. and later at a local community center while living in Chicago. In college she won the national contest to verbally list every country in the world, it's capital and ingenious language. Her works are mainly horror, fantasy, extreme, and sci-fi as well as, as some may says, "the truly strange predicament and puzzling." Books that I've written are "Clash with the Immortals, and eleven others which are part of the "Unholy Pursuit saga,". She has been working on the Chronicles since 2007. She wished to complete them all before introducing them to public so the readers wouldn't have to for the continuation to be written. The ideas of the book come from classic literature such as whose work greatly influence the world world such as Homer, Sophocles, Herodotus, Euripides, Socrates, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle and many more. The "Book of Enoch" influenced the usage of Azazael as a main character and love interest. I created the primary main character from the Chronicle of Saints. I wanted to show them as real flesh and blood with thoughts, desires and yearning as any human. Not as they are so often depicted. So I created one of my own to show her as a real human that everyone can relate to.
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11 Responses to Stop Killing Your Darlings.

  1. henhouselady says:

    this is great advice. I think I became obsessed with word count. The advice I got was you had to limit a novel to under eighty thousand words. I’m coming to the conclusion that a story needs to be as long as it needs to be. Thank you for your advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’ve heard of the eighty thousand words count rule also. Publishers usually want as less to work with as possible, especially from relatively unknown authors. Less word counts, they are cheaper to produce. Not cheaper to market.

      Sometimes one word can be used to emphasizes the fullness in what the author is transpiring to the reader and sometimes it can not. I drew this conclusion from closely observing all the books that have survived the test of time. Very few are under eighty thousand word counts. Therefore, I concluded that rule had not been tested.

      Eliminating darlings can work for some books, while others it can’t. But the thing is, it is attempted to make work for nearly every single book, no matter what it’s about. It can work for some but not for every single book.

      I say use as many words as needed to make the reader see what’s in your imagination. Most authors can do so with the minimum among of words. Plus, constantly word counting kills creativity. 🙂

      Like

      • henhouselady says:

        Thank you for your comment. I agree with you. I stripped the book I’m working on until it was naked. Now I have to go back in and dress her up again. The naked version sounded rushed and left important things out.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I am happy I was able to help. I haven’t stripped a character down in quiet a while but yes, backstories are very important. They tell the who, what, why and when. I know it is popular nowadays to start a story in the middle of the main event happening to the character but that often leaves a reader confused and wondering why the character is doing whatever he or she are doing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • henhouselady says:

            I agree about the modern trend of starting the story in the middle. I’m a firm believer of beginning a story where it starts. That’s why beginnings, middles, and ends were created in the first place.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I am somewhat lost in these stories and have to keep reading to find out, if ever, what the character is doing and why. Some, I have read and never learnt why the character was taking the actions they took. I too, feels that beginnings, middles, and ends were created.

              Liked by 1 person

        • Do you work from an outline?

          Liked by 1 person

          • henhouselady says:

            No. I’m one of those people who starts typing and the story carried me a long. Where I find outlining helpful is when I’m doing revisions and editing. It takes longer the way I do it, but I guess we all have our own styles.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I feel whatever works best for an author that’s what they should work with.
              So do I, let the story carry me along to see where it goes. I tried the outline thingy but it felt too mechanical. Yes, I worked on the series by an outline but not, not each individual book.
              I asked since you say you stripped the story down to the bare minimum and I was wondering did you have an outline to remember the progress of the story.

              Liked by 1 person

              • henhouselady says:

                I did. I’m finding I now have to go back to the begining and add some of the stuff I stripped out of the story. i killed my darling until it was too dead.

                Liked by 1 person

                • “I’m finding I now have to go back to the beginning and add some of the stuff I stripped out of the story. I killed my darling until it was too dead.”

                  That must had been drudging task if you were far into the book. Never have I attempted to do that to a book. I commenced your bravery.

                  Killing the darlings often destroy the book or take the story a disjointed route. The darlings are who brings the story to life.

                  Liked by 1 person

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