Kill Your Darlings

I confess. I did it. And I’d kill them all over again.

Stephen King said it best when he advised writers to kill their darlings. Don’t worry. We’re not talking about people or animals. We’re talking about sentences and entire paragraphs.

Editing. Most writers dislike the editing phase. I love it. It makes the story more engaging, the characters deeper. I come away a better writer because of it. But how to kill them? What does that really mean? Killing off my little darlings isn’t about correcting grammatical mistakes. I’ve already done that. I’m past the point of plot and character checks, too. And, for the most part, I’ve already done a cursory glance at wordiness and repetitive words.

At the killing stage, I’m looking for text that doesn’t move the story forward. I’m looking for the reason a part of the story seems watered-down or comes off slow. They’re the parts of a scene where you’re racing along Route 66 in a pristine ’63 Vette on a gorgeous summer day and hit a small bit of standing water. It’s not enough to stop you, but it takes away from the ride.

Does it hurt? Sometimes the death is painful. The words might be eloquent, beautifully constructed. Adorable, funny, profound. Sometimes, I cut and paste them into a separate document in case they can be reworked to fit into another story. Mostly, the words I kill disguise themselves as description or narrative. But they exist in dialog, too.

Your reader may only notice a slight drag in a scene. But to the writer, that’s prose that needs the axe. Have you ever read a page in a book that made you think, “But what about…” or “Okay, enough already!” What did you do when that went on for pages? Chapters? Uh, huh. You stopped reading, didn’t you? And how many chances will you give that same author? One more book? Two? Sure, if they’re lucky and have built a reputation or a following. If you’re an aspiring author, the agent reviewing your work will stop reading.

Try it. You know you want to. Take a look at your latest work. Then kill them. Kill your darlings. The survivors (and your readers) will thank you for it.


5 thoughts on “Kill Your Darlings

    • Thanks, Adam. I suppose we’re in the minority when it comes to our love of editing. Now, writing a synopsis? That’s another story.

  1. I can’t say I love editing, but there’s a certain satisfaction to it. I never really “kill” my darlings, though. If they’re big enough — more than a sentence or two — I retire them to a folder on my computer where they live on in eternity.


    • Thanks! Stephen King coined the phrase and I’ve never forgotten it. I keep it in mind whenever I edit. I’ve probably killed almost as many words as I’ve kept over the years.

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