Monday’s Writerly Quote

We’ve all been through it, or are going through it. And if you haven’t, hold on to your keyboard, you will in the near future. You finish a rough draft, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. After all, lots of people say they’re going to write novels, but you, my friend, have actually done it.

Now what? The EDITING! And with that editing comes some suffering. Why? I’ll let Stephen King explain.

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

Hold up a sec, Stephen! Are you saying I need to kill off my characters? But I’ve got sequels in the making. Nooooooo!

No. What Stephen means is find those scenes that you spent a lot of time on, or those supporting characters you are enamored with, or those bits of phrases and sentences you really thought you wrote brilliantly and be ready to kill them like Uma Thurman looking for sweet revenge after being in a coma.

Here’s the thing: those scenes, sentences, characters, they may be weighing your book down. But it’s hard, because you love them so much. You spent a lot of time on said scene. Or everyone in your writer’s group told you that opening sentence was brilliant. Guess what? Doesn’t matter. Because if you’re serious about telling a good story, even things you love most must be up for execution. It doesn’t mean you’ll get rid of everything you love, it just means you must be willing to.

I had what I thought was a great opener for SHADE. It spelled danger, coupled with an intriguing concept. The line got me high praises at a writer’s conference and I felt pretty darn good about it if I do say so myself. But guess what? I had to kill it. Noooooo! Really, I did. I kept trying to force it in elsewhere. But it’s brilliant, I reasoned. It must remaineth! Nope. I killed it. It doesn’t show up anywhere in the novel. The idea of it does, but not the line itself. But once I got rid of it, I was able to move forward in a slightly different direction and have gained a lot more opportunities with SHADE since.

So kill your darlings my friend. Besides, it’s the one time it’s completely okay to murder something.

Have you had to kill any darlings? Any that were excruciating to do away with? Or do you disagree and shield those darlings like a mama bear?

21 thoughts on “Monday’s Writerly Quote

  1. Ever seen the special features on lord of the rings? There’s this scene of Peter jackson in the editing room. On the door is a sign that says ‘editing in progress’ and below it is a picture of Peter holding a chainsaw. That’s what kill your darlings means to me – a lean, lean story. No matter how brilliant, if prose isn’t moving the story forward, its got to go. Love the post!

    • Is it a little ironic though that Peter Jackson’s movies still tend to be longish? I could have stood for a little more darling killing in the Hobbit. šŸ˜‰ But that’s great imagery, thanks for sharing!

  2. I murdalized an opening scene, too. It hurt, but it had to be done.

    A lot of people seem to take this message to mean “you have to get rid of everything you love.” Thanks for clarifying that point. šŸ™‚

    • Isn’t it so terrible? It’s like having to kill that cute, fluffy bunny because that’s all there is to eat and in order to survive, Mr. Bunny has got to go. Poor Mr. Bunny… though with a little BBQ sauce, he’s quite delicious! šŸ˜‰

  3. I’ve never tossed out a character or a full scene. I’ve chopped out parts that I liked, but they really didn’t fit. This happens mostly when I try to put in a funny story of a character’s past in narration. That really doesn’t work in present tense, so I’ve had to throw out a lot of fun parts.

    I agree with Kate too. A lot of writers mistake this message as throwing everything out and starting from the beginning. Personally, I never understood other authors that are proud of discarding 90% of what they wrote. Doesn’t that make it another story or mean some better planning strategies are needed? Again, personal opinion on that one.

      • True. My concern is more how proud they are that they did it. I’d be a little disappointed in such an act and have to evaluate my skills. Is there an odd sense of pride when it comes to massive editing? Like an author believes that doing that much editing means they’re doing something write.

        • Perhaps it’s a willingness to take their story to the level they want. Are you an outliner? Perhaps they are more discovery writers who made no plans before and now have to revamp things now that they know where the story is going. I think we all have different processes.

          I’m proud of myself for being willing to go to extensive revamp lengths. But the heart of the story never changed, just the way I approached it. It’s almost like an alternate universe telling, where things still happen the same at their core, just in a different way than before.

        • I’m a big outliner, which is probably why I don’t understand the pride. I design characters and stories before I try to tackle my story to avoid tossing out so much of my first draft.

          Might also be my stories because they have a lot of character development and I look at the main plot as a vehicle for those characters. So, throwing out so much of my story would be removing a lot of the heart and focus.

  4. I have a strange obsession with prologues, and have been told by a rather large number of people that the prologue to my manuscript was not only pointless, but detracted from the opening of the actual novel. I really though it was brilliant! But not a single reader agreed with me, so out came the ax. I may love it, but if the readers don’t it serves no purpose. Away with you my little darling! ;_;

  5. This is very good advice. It’s something that I wish more writer’s would consider. Also remove side plots that go nowhere and don’t add anything to the story. Make them a short story or a special cut scene extra. Like DVDs šŸ™‚

    • Haha! I love that idea. I actually don’t throw anything away and sometimes the idea is useful later. I copy it into an “extra” file, kind of like what you suggested, and save it. Odds are the specific text won’t ever see the light of day, but at least it makes me feel better that it’s not actually gone.

  6. I, too, have a clipping gallery where I park those chopped files. I have yet to put any of them back into a book, but it’s easier to put them in this “temporary” file than to delete them permanently..

  7. I have an “outtakes” file too! It’s where I put all the darling phrases/characters/ideas first and if they have merit, they might be put in the story itself.

    Maybe it should actually be called the slush file and then the ones I cut for later use/reworking should be the outtakes… but I digress.

    I am re-writing a series I first developed 15 years ago, but given that roughly 85% has been re-worked, it really is a new start. I did kill a couple darlings last week, however. It was hard, and it keeps popping up, but the tone of it just doesn’t suit the story.

    • Ooh, 15-years old re-developed series. I bet that’s been a lot of fun. I rewrote a story I originally put together at 14 a few years ago. It still needs improvement, but it’s been fun to see how it’s improved. Hopefully you’re finding the same fulfillment.

  8. The road leading to my completed draft is littered with murdered darlings, all lain to rest to make a lean, tightly-paced adventure story. Part of what I’m training myself to do is write better, more planned first drafts.

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