Killing Your Darlings

“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” - William Faulkner

For some reason I have always thought this was a Dorothy Parker quote, it seems like something she’d say. You can just see her sitting at the round table at the Algonquin, smoking a cigarette and drinking a Scotch, making this kind of proclamation among a crowd of literati. I can’t quite imagine Faulkner saying this sort of thing, darling doesn’t seem like a Faulkner kind of word.

The expression “killing your darlings” seems gothic in a way, brutal. Who are your darlings anyway, and why do they need to be killed? Your darlings are the writing you are especially proud of, beautifully wrought sentences, paragraphs, and pages that don’t need to be there anymore. You have kept them because you are in love with them, are proud, even though the writing has evolved into something different and no longer requires them.

Detecting your darlings is one of the challenges in the revision process. A writer needs to build the “inner bullshit detector” Hemingway talks about so you are able to determine whether your darlings still ring true. Sometimes it can become a battle of wills. The editor’s voice inside of you saying “cut” and the writer’s voice saying “keep.”

To make the “killing” easier, some writers create a “graveyard” for their darlings, pasting them into a document so they don’t permanently disappear. I have often resurrected my darlings, settled them into a new home. That way you can cut and keep.

2 thoughts on “Killing Your Darlings

  1. I found this “killing off of my darlings” a tremendous challenge when I restarted writing eight years ago after an on-and-off love affair from childhood onward. Now, years later, I’ve come to think of my written darlings as akin to relationships: Sometimes, they are deeply ingrained, spiritual connections, and last forever. Often, they are “right at the time” connections that fade over time. In these cases, I walk away, sometimes never to return, or I walk away (i.e., “kill them”) and return years later. I try to think of writing as I do life: Process, not product. In the end, we are known and (hopefully) remembered for not only what we did, but how we did it. And I will look back to this blog to remind me of these words when I am next faced with a stand-off with my darlings!!!

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