kill your darlings, so they say

Kinderhijk, the Netherlands

Beware of writing exhortations like “kill your darlings”. What? Why? Finding the right words can be like carrying boulders up a mountain and once at the top, what do you do? Drop them into the void? You must be kidding.

So many writing rules are out of context. Here’s what kill your darlings doesn’t mean:

When you’ve found the right words, when you’ve written an apt sentence that transmits a particular truth in the story, when you’ve discovered a simile that nails the character or a metaphor that illuminates the theme, or a particular piece of action that grabs the reader–do not kill it. Recognize that you’ve done a good job as a writer and move on.

Here’s what it does means:

When you’ve written sentences you like merely because you like them or you like fancy words you’ve used or the sound of your writerly voice, or that elaborate description like ornate frosting on a butter pound cake, do your story (and yourself) a favor: kill the darling.

Throw out the bath water, hold on to the baby.

And don’t be afraid of your own satisfaction at having written a good sentence.

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6 thoughts on “kill your darlings, so they say

  1. Thank you for this piece of gracious, practical advice and reminding us why we write in the first place.

    Love the picture too!

  2. I’ve almost shed tears over chopping a great scene. To soothe the pain, I keep a file where I save all those wonderful, beautiful clips. Maybe they can be reincarnated in another work.

  3. rcwriter, I’ve had that experience too, which is why the subject was on my mind, and I do the same–save to a folder for the day when I can use them. d:)ayya

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