Killing Your Darlings
Most writers will have encountered this expression at some stage. For the uninitiated, it is from a William Faulkner quote in reference to writing.
So, what does it mean?
It can mean the death of a character – writers are strange people who often fall in love with their characters, so killing them off is really traumatic.
Often though, it means getting rid of the bits of your writing that you think are FANTASTIC because you have also fallen in love with them. Yes, writers not only fall in love with characters, they fall in love with sentences and phrases – they really are a strange group of people. These BRILLIANT bits of writing make a writer believe he or she is SMART and a GENIUS. Sometimes a writer will read these bits and afterwards give themselves a pat on the back. But, here is the sad thing, sometimes, these bits of writing are AWFUL. The writer has become blinded and this is why some darlings must die.
For me, in especial reference to comedy writing, Killing Your Darlings is the bit where I go through a manuscript and delete REALLY funny stuff and throw it in a discarded Word file (I can’t bear to throw it out). Why would I do such a thing? Is it because I don’t want my books to be too funny? Is it because I’m worried if my books are too funny that the reader will explode with laughter? Yes, yes it is. Actually, no, I lie. The reason I do it is because while these bits are potentially hilarious (surely I’m not blinded!!), they don’t progress the story, in fact they slow the story down and ruin the flow.
This is my usual process: if I’ve written something I think is funny, or if I fall in love with a description, I’ll try my hardest to include it while everything around it crumbles, changes and conforms. Then comes D-Day. On D-Day, which stands for Death to Darlings Day, I can no longer avoid it. I become ruthless. And on D-Day is when the manuscript, unencumbered, starts to come to life.
I mention this because D-Day is coming this weekend to my new manuscript. Be warned, there will be tears …