As far as writing advice goes, “kill your darlings” is a phrase that gets slung around more often than pints in a pub. However, unlike some other advice (I’m looking at you, “write every day”), killing your darlings is something every writer has to do sooner or later.
Right now, I’m getting a double-dose of darling killing because I’m revising both Polaris Rising and my XPRIZE short story. And it hurts. The phrases and characters that I have to cut were my darlings for a reason.
For Polaris Rising, it’s starting with some actual darling killing because, based on editorial feedback, I’m simplifying Ada’s family. Some of her sisters and brothers will be axed into the ether. I liked those characters. I had stories planned for them. And now they are unmade. Ouch.
For my XPRIZE short story—which I really need to title soon—I cut the following paragraph because it didn’t work with my revisions:
Grief crushed the breath from my lungs. I floundered, too stunned to cry, too devastated to do anything other than blink. I might’ve sat there forever, pinned by my emotions and the sympathy on Samantha’s face if someone hadn’t knocked on the door.
I loved that paragraph. I don’t know why it appealed to me so much since it clearly wasn’t Shakespeare, but it was my darling. And now it’s gone. And—this is key—the story is better for it.
So when you are ready for revision, take a hard look at your manuscript. Anything that elicits an instinctive “Oh, I certainly couldn’t delete this!” deserves a second look. Maybe it really does need to be there. Maybe it is the best sentence in the history of the written word. Or maybe it’s time to kill your darlings.