Welcome to another installment of “Thanks Tips” where Allie or Jo tackles a piece of vague writing advice and unpacks the meaning behind it. Today’s unpacking? KILL YOUR DARLINGS.
I don’t know quite when this became SUCH A THING but I’m pretty sure we have Stephen King to blame – if not for its origins, then for its popularity.
But what does it MEAN?
It means this: Just because you love it, doesn’t mean it belongs…
Let’s jump in and look at this further.
KILLING A SCENE or even a JUMPING OFF POINT for a story:
The first book I ever wrote, I wrote by accident. I was playing my guitar, my two kids goofing off in their playroom, and this idea of a songwriter, a woman who had just suffered unspeakable loss, had a friend who entered her into a songwriting competition and she won. A few weeks later, she finds herself inside the home studio of a famous man, fresh out of rehab, and unable to write. Of COURSE they had to fall in love. But the first scene I wrote was her learning about her sneaky friend and her being in awe of going to California. The WHOLE premise of the book was this competition, and it didn’t survive edits. Neither did that very first scene, or first few chapters. They didn’t belong in the story. And in the final? She wasn’t in awe of going, she was in dread. Another story I wrote was based on a love triangle, where the young woman doesn’t end up with either of the guys at the end. That’s what I wrote toward the WHOLE time, but that ending didn’t belong once I got there.
Just because a scene is vivid, or the IDEA of your novel came from somewhere specific, doesn’t mean that the spark, or initial scene, will make it into your novel. That, my friend, is one example of KILLING YOUR DARLINGS.
KILLING A CHARACTER:
A good friend of mine sent me a fun romance to do a simple edit on, and we both LOVED her British leading man. The thing is…as charming and witty and FUN as he was…that background didn’t fit the story. Him being from her hometown did fit the story.
Loving a character and/or their backstory, doesn’t mean the particulars of their background is right for the novel you’re writing/editing.
KILLING OUR WITTY, WITTY SELVES
A friend was talking about how sometimes she’ll come across one of her own lines that makes her laugh out loud, or makes her stop and think – holy crap, I wrote that? But more often than not, those small lines either pull the reader from the story, or allow too much of US to print on the pages rather than our characters.
The line has to go.
The main idea behind KILL YOUR DARLINGS is to objectively look at all the pieces of your novel to make SURE they fit with your story. We can’t keep things only because they’re clever or make us laugh or make us smile. We keep what WORKS, what FITS, and what’s NECESSARY to further the protagonist’s journey.
My best advice to know what stays and goes from your own manuscript? TAKE TIME AWAY from your words and try to keep yourself detached when you read again. Still stuck? Allie and I are always happy to give our thoughts.