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”

  • mara

    hi nathan you went to our school jannali east last week on education week. I was wondering who inspired you to write books.

  • mara


  • Hi Mara,

    Thanks for your comments. I get my inspiration from CRAZY things that happen to me, but also from my love of books and stories. There’s nothing better than a good book. And in answer to your other question, yes I do edit. I edit A LOT!!!!! Most of writing is rewriting to get everything right.

  • Amy

    Hi Nathan,
    i was just wondering if you ever find it difficult to stay on the same idea when you write your books and do you have any advice on how to stay focused when you write a book?

    Thanks :D

  • ellie

    hi nathan i go to Jannali East Public School and i was wondering are most of your books about your childhood memories?

    thank you for coming to our school you inspired lots of us thank you !

  • patrick

    Hi Nathan.
    Thanks for coming to our school, Jannali East. You were awesome because you told us heaps of stories and funny stuff.

  • neve

    hi nathan
    do you edit your work?
    what does killing and darling mean?
    and why do you delete funny stories from your book

  • Jordan

    Hi nathan I think you went to my school jannali east did you like it How do you get your ideas and do you like computer games?

  • Thanks for all your messages!!!!! here are some answers:

    1) Hi Amy – yes it can be very difficult to stay on one idea and that’s why you have to REALLY like your idea in the first place. Sometimes if you get stuck, you can put it away for a few months and come back to it. Another tip is if one bit is tricky, skip that bit and move to the next. Come back to it.

    2) Hi Ellie. No not all my work is based on childhood memories but I do use my childhood memories a lot! I also listen to other people’s stories and steal their stories!!!

    3) Thanks Patrick!!

    4) Yes Neve, I do edit my work a lot. Kill your Darlings mainly refers to when you’ve written something you love and because you love it so much you are blind to the fact that it doesn’t really work. This isn’t always the case sometimes I write good stuff that works perfectly and I leave it in.

    5) Hi Jordan  - I loved visiting your school. I get my ideas from all over the place: memories, people I meet, things that happen to me …. yes I do like computer games though these days I am too busy to play many. My favourite one when I was a kid was called Lemmings.

  • alex

    Hi Nathan it was so much fun having you come to our school Jannali East Public last week:-).I was wondering how many books have you read and how many books did you have when you were a kid?

  • Erin

    Hi Nathan. Even though I wasn’t there when you went to my school, I would still like to know how you don’t accidentally go off topic. Thanks!

  • Erin

    sorry, just realised you already had a question like that. :D

  • Adam.arkley

    Hi Nathan
    It must be hard to cut out the sentences that you love.

  • alex

    Hi Nathan, do you edit your work?

  • nathan mcgregor

    Hi Nathan thank you for visiting our school last week. I really enjoyed listening to you speak about your life especially the part where a nail went through your hand. Are you writing a book now and if you are what is it called?

  • alex

    Hi Nathan, why do you delete really funny stuff from your stories?

  • Enric

    Hi Nathan
    what was your favourite auther when you were a kid and what was your favourite book? p.s you rule! p.p.s you are hilarous and so funny.

  • maddy

    Hi Nathan Luff
    Do you think you’d ever do non fiction books or a book basted on your childhood. Anyway does killing your darlings tell you what authors do and how they love their characters , sentences and paragraphs?

  • hi Nathan you came to our school Jannali east public school. thank you that really inspired us. why do you take stuff out of your book if you really like it?

    thanks from lily

  • Lucy

    Hey Nathan I go to Jannali East and I was wondering if you get different illustrators and publishers for each book you write?

    Thankyou for coming to our school and sharing some of your memories with us:)

  • neve

    thank you

  • neve

    HI Nathan
    have you ever though of righting for adults and how do come up with such creative storys and has it ever made you want to right a song if it has can i have some tips
    just wondering
    from neve

  • sam

    Thanks for coming to our scool Nathan!!! I really enjoyed it!!!

  • Nathan

    hi Nathan thanks to coming to Jannali east public school

  • sam

    by the way what is your favourite song and has it ever inspired you to write a book!!!

  • Jordan

    Thank you Nathan for your answers :-) I’m looking forward to reading your books. Do you have any questions for me?

  • Why do you delete or the really funny things in your book?

    It was funny when the nail went through your hand hahahahahahahah!

  • Jordan

    Sorry Nathan, one more question – what is your favourite book out of the ones you’ve written?

  • Kim

    Hi, Nathan have old are you and do you brothers give you any ideas for books?

  • hi Nathan

    how old where you when you wrote your first book
    what was your first book about and what gave you the experience to write childrens books

  • Kim

    Sorry it was meant to say , how old are you and do your brothers give you any ideas for your books.

  • Aleuca

    Hi you visited our school last week and I really enjoyed you coming. The stories you told us were awesome! I have some questions. What was your favourite pet when you were young? Out of all the books you have written which one is your faveourite? And my last one How much wood could a wookchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? :) :) :):) Thank you! Goodbye see you someday. :) :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

  • caitlin

    hi nathan im caitlin first i would like to say thank you for coming to jannali east public school and how do you get so creative peace out creative people of the world and peace out nathan!!!!!!!!

  • ellie

    thank Nathan

  • Wow! So many comments and questions. I will try to do my best to quickly answer them all:
    I had heaps of books (too many to count) as a kid and read well over a hundred each year. My favourite authors were Roald Dahl and Victor Kelleher. My favourite book was Matilda.
    My favourite song as a kid was ‘The Sounds of Silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel – I loved it because it made me think so much. How can silence have a sound?? I do write some songs of my own – I basically start with lyrics, working with interesting rhythms and rhymes, just like writing poetry, and then I take out a guitar and try putting chords to the song.
    I wrote my first book (unpublished) when I was about 13 – it was an adventure story about some boys who were kidnapped and had to save the world from nuclear explosion. My first published book came out just after I turned 29.
    I don’t have a favourite of my own books. I’m working on a new one that I really like and at the moment it’s called Gasbag. One day I might write non-fiction or books for adults, but right now I love writing the types of books I’m writing.
    My favourite pet was a rock. My second favourite pet was our kangaroo, Big Fella.
    Generally an author is with one publisher, but it can change depending on the type of book you are writing and if your publisher wants to publish it or not.
    Finally, it takes a lot more explanation but the whole idea with cutting out bits from your work is because the MOST important thing in a story is the story. So if the funny stuff doesn’t help the story move along, it has to go. Don’t worry – I leave in lots of funny stuff that helps the story.

  • Jonah

    Hi Nathan, I am from Jannali East Public School. I really enjoyed you coming to our school last week because you gave us some great tips for writing and you told us a lot of funny stories about your past life.:)

  • tamara

    hi Nathan
    you came to our school at Jannali east public school and shared all of your child hood memories with us

    one question what was it like living on a farm with all of your bothers

  • Paris

    Hi Nathan I was just wondering how old where you when you decided to become a writer for a living and my class where doing some work on narratives and I was wondering what is easier for you,to write in the future or the past Thank you Nathan!!!!!!!!

  • Liam

    Hi Nathan Luff

    How many books have you wrote in the past and what was the longest one?

    Ps What made you play the game where you jump on the raft with your brothers?

  • sam

    thanks for answering my question nathan!!!

  • Maya.J

    Hi Nathan
    I go to jannali east public school.Thanks for coming to our school the other day.I have a few questions. Did your brothers laugh at you when the nail went through your hand? Have you ever ran out of ideas for your books.

  • Hi
    thankyou for visiting last week. It was awesome!!!

    three questions 1. What was your favourite animal? 2. Which brother did you like best?
    3. Could you live without books?????


    P.S. I am from Jannali East PS

  • Camryn

    Hi Nathan,
    thanks for coming to our school I’m just wondering if you have trouble thinking of ideas for your books and when you have finished a book how does it feel.

  • Aleuca

    Hi nathan, when you came to our school someone asked you are all horses evil and when you said yes I was ready to explode. No no horses are evil. I am a horse lover and I am dissapointed in you:( :(


  • hazen

    thanks for your email nath.Wait can I call you nath if yes put :) if no put:( please repy

  • Noah

    Hi Nathan, I was at high school for education so I missed your talk. I was wondering what first inspired you to write children’s books? Oh and I you were wondering why so many messages lately, its for homework.

  • hazen

    sorry spellcheck reply:)

  • Hi Nathan, you did a superb job at Jannali East Public school! You are REALLY funny.

    P.S: you are epic! :D

  • Nikki

    Hi Nathan,

    Thank you for showing us the pictures of a crazy character, a boring character and the perfect character on your visit to Jannali East. It has helped me learn more about story writing. Which is your favourite character and illustration in one of your books?


  • Mary

    Hi Nath
    My name is Mary.I have something’s to ask you: how much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a could woodchuck wood? How do you get your pen licence in year 4? Can you crack this code: U R GR8? When I grow

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