Monday Classroom: Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings if you dare . . .

12 Mar

I’ve killed me some darling’s in my time, let me tell you what! Yeah. But then again, I do remember a time when I didn’t know  what that meant—I mean, I knew in theory, but in reality it only confused me. I could see obvious phrases or words that could come out, but “Darlings?”

How would I know a darling to be able to kill it? And if it was a darling, why didn’t I want to keep it. Ungh! Brain hurts! Brain hurts!

Guess what? The killing your darlings question, my friends,  cannot exactly be answered by a writer giving advice, much as we may try. This, I believe, is one of those “Unteachable Things” that writers must figure out on their own. They must write (practice craft), and develop their own “style and voice;” have their AHA moment(s) and let the mists lift and things become clear—or not–hahahahahah! Yes! Writing is for the insaaaaane ! or for at least the mildly discombobulated. And even then it’s a whole lot of guessing or hoping or experimenting, or if you just ain’t getting it, asking someone else to read your manuscript and rip it to shreds–oh dear.

For the most part, knowing your Darlings to Kill versus Prose That Should Stay is subjective–at least until your readers read your published book, then subjection goes all out the window–flyyy flyyyy little bird and try not to crap on my car, please.

Have you ever watched deleted scenes in a movie and thought, “Oh geez, so glad they took that out!” But of course we are seeing the deleted scenes in the context of what we’ve just watched as a completed movie. Imagine if  those deleted scenes were still in the movie (I am thinking of a magical ring and the endings that never wanted to end and how butts came off the seat, back down, off the seat back down and “is it over? wait, not yet” could be heard across theater-land). Some of them may bring out an eye roll or a “why did they put that unneeded fluff/extra gloppity doo in there?” or “I’m kind of bored right now;” or a “Hmm, a bit over-wrought/over-done/over-acted.” Oh, but because things can never be easy, maybe a scene or two or so could have fit right on in without a glitch and you may think: “Hey, that’s a cool scene; why’d they take it out?”

But folkses, one thing is for certain, most all of the time the deleted scenes are not missed as we watch the final movieproduct–no one notices the place they once had in the movie, nothing explodes/implodes from the scene(s) not present in the movie, no one stalks to the movie director/producer/screenwriter’s door and smacks them upside the head sideways-to-silly for taking out that scene or scenes–and they had a reason for taking it out, right? riiiiggghht, even if Big Movie Head said, “This thang is too long. Cut it or I stop paying the bills,” while the screenwriter moans, groans, gnashes his/her teeth and cries him/herself to sleep for fifty-two days plus one.

And, most times we who watched the cut movie are not saying, “Something is missing here, I wonder if they deleted a scene?” Of course, to make things all mixed up and confused and angsty-poo, there may be times we say, “Wait, something is missing here . . . .” Ah, isn’t it an ever-moving vague wavery line made of pencil that can be erased and replaced, erased and replaced, and even misplaced retraced and whatever other “aced” you can think of? Hot Damn!, ain’t writing a whole sack o cra-cra? I mean, fun—yeah, fun! It’s fun fun fun fun fun fun fun *help me* fun fun fun fun fun.

Gas-X for Writers. Try one today! *results may vary*

Welp, all y’allses, it’s like this: we have to use our own judgment and instincts to kill our darlin’s—or find an editor or reader you trust to help. But, me? Huhn, I want to have control over my books. I want to KNOW. I want to be AWARE. And one way is to be true to who you are as a writer and stop trying to: show people what a great writer you are; show people you can write like/better than so and so; step in the way of your characters because you can make them better-stronger-faster-bionic! It’s your voice, your style, what you want to say and how you want to say it, but when you “try too hard” to be what you are not, to write what isn’t Yours, then what you have when you type “the end” may be bloated and gassy–urp. Grab that sucker by the ankles and shake the ding-dang-dong out of it. Turn it inside out and upside down and sideways. Give it some gas-ex.

There is no magic to writing you will find peeping through a magic keyhole (although, sometimes there really is magic in this writing life, isn’t there?–a wonder fairy-land of magicalnessess, right? riiighhht!) There is only the writing and tweaking and rewriting and editing and hoping and dreaming and doing the best we can and pulling out our hair and stomping our feet and then crying and laughing and grabbing the manuscript and kissing it and telling it how it is our true love and buying it flowers and asking it to . . . um, . . . *ahem* anyway . . . .

You can save a copy of your manuscript in another file if your stomach ties in knots because you just looooooooove a phrase or paragraph or scene soooooo much and you’ll just diiiie if it’s not in there. It’s easy to do: “save as” your manuscript under a different name, like “Darling Killer Take 1.”  Use the re-named manuscript to rip the be-jeebus-dangity-doo out of it. Splash/dribble/sprinkle paint on it ala Jackson Pollock. Drip your sandwich mustard on it and then say, “this means something; this means something.” Wrinkle it up in a big-arse ball and dribble it down the court. Put a pink lip-print on it. Dress it in diamonds, and then rip off those diamonds and slap on some over-alls—no, wait, not overalls, no no never overalls! Gawd NO Not the Overalls! What about some simple dark jeans and a white shirt with a silver necklace. Wait, what are we talking about here–oh yeah, our manuscripts. teehee.

As well, your delete key can become your very best friend. I mean it. No, really. I know you keep seeing these words here: “The pweshush. The delete pweshush.” But remember, you have your original manuscript waiting all nice and comfy just in case you freak out once your nice manuscript has become unrecognizable. (Of course, there is the “knowing when to stay when and it is done so it’s not fiddle-danged to hell and back.” How do you know that? Guess that’s another thought for another day, and another subjective angsty-poo, to boot–hey, love those ooooo sounds, haw!)

A thought for you: how many times have you written something you thought was GOLDEN plucked straight from the GOLDEN tree of GOLDEN words, and then when you had someone read your work, they never mention that GOLDEN part, but instead, they mention some other part you hadn’t even paid attention to, and in fact, you almost deleted that scene because it seemed so, well, NOT GOLDEN, and you didn’t even find it that interesting. What the hellvitica? They liked that and not this wonderfulnessnessess? Well, rip me in two and call me double-danged. Hey, guess what? We writers aren’t always the best judge of what a reader will respond to and love. No, really. No, really. No, reeeaaaaallllly.  I shrug.

Which, again, could make Killing the Darlings a frustrating exercise in our writing. Look folks, all we can do is use our gutty instincts, be true to ourselves and our characters and their world, write with heart and sincerity, stop thinking ahead of ourselves, and hope for the best. Right? Riggghhhht.

What do you  have to say about Killing your Darlings?


23 Responses to “Monday Classroom: Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings if you dare . . .”

  1. Vaughn Roycroft March 12, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    This has been a toughy for me. I write the kind of books I like to read. And that kind (I’ve found) are frequently criticized for being too long (if you don’t believe me, just google George RR Martin, Jacqueline Carey, or Patrick Rothfuss along with the word ‘verbose’ and you will get dozens of links). I wanted to build a world worth lingering in, and characters worth following. Then I got done and someone said those evil words… ‘story mechanics.’ Luckily, I had them–or at least the rickety skeletons of them–I just didn’t know it. And wrapped up with those story mechanics were a whole big mess o’ darlin’s. But after two years of cut, snip, cut again, and I still have people telling me the dang thing’s too long. Another luckily: I know there are a few who like those same dang long-arse books I do–and I’ve even had a few of them embrace mine.

    But this is from a guy who couldn’t imagine the magical ring story without the main little guy leaving on the ship. Yes, he’d tossed the darn thing in fire, it was over (and over-wrought), but I like lingering in an old favorite (shoulda been a bathroom break, though ;-).

    Guess I better get back to snipping and gut-trusting. (Where’s that Gas-X?)

    • katmagendie March 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

      I liked him on the ship, too, but I do remember thinking the movie had several endings and feeling a little bit tared –that’s tired for you non-appalachian/southern people :-D

      I like reading a long book if it’s a good long book! Sometimes I don’t want books/movies to end, I like them so much – so oo soooooo oo o o o! :-D

  2. Lester D. Crawford March 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    I killed all of the darlings in my epic fantasy series.
    What remained was:

    Chapter One.
    I came.
    Chapter Two.
    I saw.
    Chapter Three.
    I failed.

    (I am thinking about rewriting chapter three.)

    This is when I realized everything I write is a darling.
    I am beginning to think that “darlings” is what defines epic fantasy.

    • katmagendie March 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm #


      Lawd. I think my books, esp the first one, are full of darlings. Some of those darlings stay . . . cause I say so . . . cause I’m their CRE_A_TOR *said in a booming voice*

  3. karenselliott March 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    I am working with an editor now and she chops my stuff up into little bits, puts it in a jar, shakes it, and boy-o does my stuff look good after! And YES, sometimes there is that one phrase that is soooo cool and you just don’t want to delete it. But your editor wants you to. Eek. I usually take her advice, but if I can find a spot to put it, then I sneak it back in.

    • katmagendie March 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

      *laughing* on sneaking it back in :-D —

  4. CG Blake March 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    So true. I chopped the first four chapters from my novel after getting feedback from agents that the 10-year-old voice for my main character didn’t work. I was an adult trying to sound like a child, they said and they were right. In the process I lost what I thought was a lot of great backstory, but that’s all it was. Most of the initial character development in those chapters came through in the rest of the MS. The writer is the child and the editor is the adult. The editor must show no mercy on the little darlings. Thanks for another great post.

    • katmagendie March 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      oh, maybe you can write another John and family book – from ‘the earlier years’ — I’d read more of John and his family!

      • CG Blake March 12, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

        I’ve thought about a sequel that goes the other way–covering the later years and what happens with Paul and Rebekka, with alternating POVs. To make it work, that would require killing off one or more of my characters. Those are darlings I don’t want to kill.:)

        • katmagendie March 13, 2012 at 7:47 am #

          I do understand that!

  5. Bernadette Phipps Lincke March 12, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    I killed my darlings. With my first manuscript that consisted of five rewrites which gradually amounted to cutting out about a third of the book and doing over in total rewrite. It killed me to kill my darlings because I loved some of that stuff–but story flow is much more important that words or even scenes. I like your correlation here to movies–I come from a film background and when I write a story I see it in my head as a film–I am writer, director, cinematographer, actor and producer all rolled into one. Each role balances the other out–I know, I know sounds crazy-but it works for me.

    • katmagendie March 13, 2012 at 7:49 am #

      I think that sounds interesting – to be all of those things. And it must make your writing style or the way you write interesting as well, to see it from those perspectives! I would think you not to be a “panster” but more of an organizer/plotter/outliner – course, I could be wrong!

  6. CC MacKenzie March 12, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Great post. This is an interesting one.

    I’m a slash and burner of the OMG! I LOVE THIS! scene unless it serves a specific purpose or it’s a pivotal moment. Having said that I never toss anything away. I have a dump file for every single story. You never know when you might need that OMG scene for something else or to help with a creative spurt.

    And I totally get what CG Blake is saying about moving the timeline or POV change. Sometimes I don’t need a secondary character or three and I’ll combine them or get rid if they add nothing.

    On the subject of writing too much descriptive stuff. This is something I personally have never suffered from because my writing rocks along at a fast pace. Sometimes too fast and it needs reining in and that’s when I start to work backwards after the first couple of edits to start layering and working on character development. I’ve never had to cut, cut, cut. In my weird world I need to build, build, build. Yep, writers are one small step away from insanity, but what a way to go!

    • katmagendie March 13, 2012 at 8:19 am #

      I do that, too – the layering after very fast writing. I wrote Sweetie in a 30 day wilded storm of writing – this was before I knew about nanowrimo. I had 75ish or so words in that thirty days – but boy oh boy did Sweetie need work! In fact, I ended up slashing 3 chapters in the beginning and 2 at the end — oh it was hard, but needed.

      Those first 2 or 3 “go throughs” are exciting for me – that’s when the layering and seeing the novel as a whole and etc etc etc happen. Pretty cool stuff, huh?

  7. Barbara Forte Abate March 13, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    I was so over-the-moon elated when a successful high-fallootin’ agent called to tell me how much she loved my manuscript. But then I immediately fell back to earth with a painful thunk when she proceeded to point out all the purpley prose and not so darling darlings that I needed to slash and burn. What the heck?! Where was this love she spoke of? Well, now I get it, but it took some serious blows to the head to make it sink it. I have a better eye all these years later, but that isn’t to say I don’t sneak around to the back door now and again to slip in a darling or two when I think nobody is looking :-D

    • katmagendie March 13, 2012 at 7:53 am #

      Here’s the weird thing about advice from agents on our manuscripts. I only queried a handful of agents for what would become TG — I received some wonderful feedback and knew I needed to rework the book before I queried again because it was too bloated – when I went back to querying, the first place I queried was BB -but anywaaaaay – the thing about advice is I remember I received two letters within days of each other — one letter said “I loved the first half of this book, but thought the second half needed work” the other letter said, you may be guessing correctly, “I was delighted with the second half of this book, but thought the first half needed work.”

      Now . . . huhn.

      So I worked on both halves of the book *laugh*

  8. Heather Marsten March 13, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I save my killed scenes in a deleted document file – it makes the killing easier :)

  9. Walker March 13, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    If the little darling has to go then they have to go.
    I don;t write so i wouldn’t know if what i write is golden unless i use a gold ink then i guess it would be.

    • katmagendie March 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

      YOU are golden, Walker :-D

  10. Stephen Tremp March 14, 2012 at 2:00 am #

    I have a Junkyard full of parts and pieces that have been chopped from the MS. But I can go back and pick and part again and reuse it. Plug and play. I do this all the time. Great feeling to plug in a couple thousand words that was written a couple years earlier.

    • katmagendie March 14, 2012 at 7:47 am #

      Oh, this is true Stephen. I used to keep . . . well, nothing I’d deleted. Nothing. One day a friend said, “you DELETE without saving?” Yup. I figured there are always more words. Now, I am trying to put myself in the “keep this you may want it” kind of vibe :-D

  11. Ileandra Young March 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Discombobulated. Heh, I’m still looking for a way to use this in a conversation, but until then I’ll just say:
    Every time I do and edit I ‘save as’ my file, because I want – much, much later on – to compare the edited piece to the original. I want to know that I made the right choices as I hack my work to death and, to be honest, I like having the ghost of my darlings floating around behind me. I go back and read first drafts with cheerful fondness because I know through the death of those sweet, sweet darlings, I have come out with something substantially better.
    Kinda like pruning a rose bush; you don’t want to snip off those branches, but the whole bush will look so much better (and grow so much better) once you do!

    • katmagendie March 15, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

      Yes! The rose bush analogy is quite apt. You may not feel less discombobulated and more bobulated! :-D

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