Killing Your Darlings

July 24th, 2013 · 60 Comments »

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 …

Categories: Writing

60 Responses to “Killing Your Darlings”

  • Holly

    Hi Nathan

    Thanks for coming to our school (Jannali East)
    What is your favourite book that you have written so far and what is your next book called? Does it have an exciting character called Holly? If not then why not?

    Holly :)

  • catherine

    hi Nathan I was wondering if your brothers know about your book chicken stu and the characters in it. if they don’t keep it a secret.

  • catherine

    hi again just wanted to say thank you for coming to JESP from Catherine.

    bye :-)

  • Tameika

    HI Nathan thank you so much for coming to our school. I was wondering how you come up with all this ideas for your books ? Could you try to write a book about our school and how amazing it is.


  • mara zavodja

    hi Nathan,
    thanks for coming to visit our school. You inspired me to put more effort in my writing and now its not so boring having to do it.
    When ever I’m stuck i just think about the tips you gave us and its a big help!

    From MARA:)

  • Wow even more replies. You guys r gr8!!!! Okay, here are a few quick replies. Sorry for the delay – I have been very busy this week.

    It was so much fun living on a farm – like having a huge playground for your backyard. I don’t have a favourite brother because then the others would feel left out, and besides they are all different and wonderful in their own ways.

    As far as writing goes – I like writing both past and present tense narratives and it depends on the book and character as to which I use. I can’t imagine running out of ideas – every day I have a whole bunch of them. The longest book I have written is Bad Grammar, which is about 44,000 words. My favourite character in Chicken Stu is Aunt Gwen, and my favourite in Bad Grammar is Fred. When a book is done and actually on the shelves in bookstores it is an AMAZING feeling.

    You may call me Nath if you like … saves a bit of time, well, less than a second, but still it all adds up.

    I’m so sorry about saying all horses are evil. You are right, this is not true at all. I actually think horses are really smart and they scare me a lot, which is why I say they are evil, but really they are an amazing animal and I have only met 1 truly evil one (named Rocky). Also, I loved the book Black Beauty when I was a kid.

    No, I couldn’t live without books. That would be a very sad world.

  • Evie

    Hi Nath
    I won’t say thanks for coming to JEPS, enough people have already said that. Instead I will say Dank which is thanks in German. I really enjoyed your talk. I thought it was hilarious.


  • Aleuca

    That is much better nath I love HORSES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:)

  • Aleuca

    hi nathan
    i have some random questions do you like pickles?
    do you ride horses? do you like trains? have you seen how animals eat their food?


  • Sorry for the long time it has taken me to answer these questions:
    No, I do not like pickles very much.
    I have ridden horses but I like riding horses as much as I like eating pickles.
    I do like trains because they don’t buck and kick, like horses and pickles.
    I’ve seen how many animals eat their food but not all animals. My favourite is how a kangaroo eats their food because although they use their hands, they are still quite polite and don’t talk with their mouth full.

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