Day Eighteen: Murder Your Darling, or Not

Murder my darling, or not.

William Faulkner said: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

Stephen King said: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Kill your darlings, is perhaps, the scariest, most intense piece of writing advice ever.

But I don’t want to murder my darling!

I’d like to make a case, today, for the idea that you don’t actually have to do it. At least, not every time. Instead, you just have to identify your darlings. Then make a decision.

So, a darling is a piece of your writing that you’re super attached to, to the point that you’re not seeing it objectively. It’s a scene or a character or some other part of your stories that you’re bending over backwards to make relevant.

And sure, sometimes you have to kill your darling. You just do. Maybe your story has changed to the point that the scene you love so much just doesn’t fit anymore. Maybe your favorite character just has to wait for another book.

But sometimes you can make it work.

The key is to remove ego from the equation. Forget that it’s your hard work you’re going to have to toss if the scene gets a double thumbs down. Look at the problem with fresh eyes (if you can actually have fresh eyes take a look, even better.)

Here are the three steps to (Maybe) Killing Your Darlings.

Identify the Darling

If you really love the thing, but you have to keep fighting with it–you probably have a darling.

If your beta readers are confused by it, but you feel heartsick when you think of cutting it–you probably have a darling.

If you have a scene that’s your best writing ever, but feels like it belongs in a different book–you definitely have a darling, Darling.

I’m willing to bet that as soon as you read the title of this post, you thought of a scene in your work-in-progress.

Evaluate the Darling

Ask yourself what it is about the scene that’s giving you fits. If you cut it, will you have to write something else in its place, or could you lift it out whole and not really make a difference in your work? Does the darling scene play well with others–does it interact with the scenes before and after it?

Most important: What does the darling do for your work and what would happen if you took it out?

Kill it, or Not

The hard truth: If you can lift the scene out of your story and you won’t have to do any work to cover the loss, you probably need to do that. Every scene in your book should be indispensable. Often what makes a scene a darling is the fact that it’s too separate from the rest of the story.

The better news: If the scene is an important part of the story, but just doesn’t quite blend just right yet, you might be able to salvage it in revision.

The best news: You don’t have to actually revise it unless you’re finished with your first draft. Remember the one rule?

If you’re in revision, then evaluate your darling scenes with open eyes and an ego-free heart. If you do have to cut it, place it gently in it’s own file for later use. (Even if you never use it, you’ll feel better if you know it’s there. Just in case.)

ASSIGNMENT 18

Identify a scene in your work in progress and ask yourself: Am I going to have to murder my darling? (You don’t have to actually do it now. In fact, you’re not allowed to unless you’re in revision!) Just make a note of the scene in your writing notebook.

If you need some commiseration, come on over to Facebook. We’re here for you.

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