Killing My Darlings

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.

5 Replies to “Killing My Darlings”

  1. Hi Jessie – Just a suggestion: Keep the paragraph tucked away somewhere, maybe in your archives. Some day you may find exactly the place to use it. It was a very powerful look at how grief feels on the inside, and it would be a shame for the world to lose it..

    1. Thank you, I will! My bigger projects all have a file of cut text, just in case I need to resurrect any of it (and because it’s hard to part completely from my darlings). :)

  2. Do the stories involving the cut members of Ada’s family relate to the family? I’m just thinking you could use the characters/stories elsewhere without them being related to Ada?

    I’m guessing from the comment in response to another post they will be saved somewhere in your archives ready to come to light when the right time/story occurs.

    1. I should clarify: when I said I had stories planned for them, it was really only in the loosest sense. I’m very much a pantser (i.e., I write by the seat-of-my-pants without a detailed outline), so their stories were more nebulous ideas than anything concrete. And those ideas are definitely fodder for future stories!

  3. Killing My Darlings is an awesome novella title. You just have to keep track where the scenes are placed between the story. I’m thinking three books in you will have a good amount ?

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