“Kill your darlings.” I hate that term.
It was first introduced to me by my friend Gina Rosati (you should check out her book, Auracle, here—you’ll love it!) during a meet the writers session at our local library. Widely attributed to William Faulkner, but first known to be said by Arthur Quiller-Couch, the saying basically means to take all that you hold dear in your writing in throw it out.
Why? Why put all of your hard work aside—especially those sections that you absolutely love? The ones you slaved over and lost sleep over, the ones that made you think “damn, I can actually do this writing thing and be good at it”? Maybe it goes back to another trope: Love is blind.
Maybe you’re so in love with your prose that you can’t see how it detracts from the overall story. Maybe you can’t see that if you just removed this one (albeit lovely) roadblock, you’d get your story back on track. Maybe you can’t see that this convoluted, Scarlet Letter-type description is the thing that’s going to keep your story from selling to a publisher.
Because, when it comes down to it, nobody really cares that deeply about the shape of the room and the colors of the walls. You might have the descriptive prowess of a silver-tongued orator, but if you can’t capture people’s attention—real people, and not the audience in your head that tells you this is great—then it’s better to kill it off.
“Kill your darlings.” I love that term.
It makes my writing stronger. But where’s the line? Where do I decide that a section is good-because-I-think-so or good-because-it-is? To riff off of Shakespeare, “to kill or not to kill, that is the question.”
This is where beta readers can come in handy. People that really want to strengthen your manuscript, not kiss up to you or tear you down. But really, genuinely give you advice so you can succeed. They are gold—if you find one, keep them.
But you should also know your writing style and whether or not the section in question is both consistent with the rest of your writing or off the rails. Good or overly-produced. Because if you throw out everything that you like about your story, you’re left with a pile of words you can’t stand working with. If you’re not happy with the plot, you can certainly be sure that others won’t be.
But if others aren’t happy with the plot and you are, perhaps you should take a deeper look.
And then carefully—thoughtfully—look over your words, say a prayer, and begin committing your literary crime.