Thursday, September 11, 2014

Killing Your Darlings: Can You Really Wield That Dagger?

It's Karlie today!

If you've been in the writing business for very long, you've heard this phrase in various forms: "Kill your darlings."It just means you can't get too attached to any part of your writing, that you have to stay objective enough to see what needs to be cut and trimmed.

But...have you really stopped and let this soak in? Chances are, you just skimmed over it. Your head understood it; but your writer's brain did not.

You have to kill your darlings. Actually highlight whole passages and hit the delete button. Those scenes you love but don't add anything to the story, even though you've managed to convince yourself they do. Those chapters that you just take for granted have to be there, but if you were to look at them from a fresh viewpoint, are just twisty and meaningless.

This is a hard lesson to learn. I thought I had embraced this long ago, but the truth is, I just recently learned what it truly means to "kill your darlings."
And it hurts. Really bad. But it's actually...worth it. In the end, it made the story better.

How do you feel about killing your darlings, sacrificing the parts of the story - or even whole characters - you love?

Lisa: I've never sacrificed entire characters, though I've heard of writers who're about to be published who must. Their editors strongly advised it. I don't know what I'd do there. However, I have a process for killing my useless scene darlings that is relatively painless. You create a Word document, calling it Deleted Book Title Scenes, meaning my current WIP deleted scene file would be called Deleted 17 Promises Scenes. Karlie's file would be called Deleted Forsaken Scenes. And you cut your nonprogressive scene from your master copy and paste it in the deleted scene document. The reason this works so well is because these darlings aren't forever gone. You can trick yourself by saying "I might come back and get them later" but you probably shouldn't add them back. However, you can always pull from them from another story. I've done that once. Although, I don't have as many darlings as I used to. Either I'm getting better at outlining hence don't fall pray to writing those nonprogressive scenes as much, or else I'm becoming more stubborn and cannot be convinced that those scenes are unnecessary in the first place. :)

Caitlin: I do something similar with my darlings that are sentences or phrases that I just LOVE. I put them in one big word doc from all my books. And, occasionally, I have gone back and fetched them to use in something else. Because sometimes a nice turn of phrase that doesn't work in one scene, works well and adds to another. As for scenes, Lisa knows all to well I'm pretty bad at catching these myself (meaning entire scenes that don't really do much.) But, once they're pointed out to me, I can usually stand back and either heavily revise them to make them carry their weight or remove them entirely. When I signed with my agent, I had to make several revisions, including removing several scenes that I really liked. It hurts, for sure, but in the end I want to write an amazing book, not an amazing scene, so that helps me slash away at them. :)

Dan: I'm sure that, as with most writing advice, I find it easier to preach than follow myself. But I have had to cut big pieces from my book because the manuscript was stronger without them. One was a prologue for my current book. As is the case for most prologues, it had to go. My agent told me so right away. I hope to have an excuse to use it later. The same goes for a chapter in which my MC went bowhunting... I wrote that in November, and realized that it was just my inner self channeling the desire to go bowhunting. Axed.

When I must kill a darling, I do as Lisa does, and save these somewhere else (in my case, I have a Scrivener folder for them). No writing is truly wasted, if it helps you explore characters or world-build or practice writing. It's the literal interpretation of this advice that I struggle with: killing off characters. I just don't have enough George RR Martin in me.

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