How to Kill Your Darlings

How to Kill Your Darlings
November 22, 2016 No Comments » For Authors, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

how-to-kill-your-darlingsKill your darlings is a phrase that’s often repeated but not one that everyone understands. But famous writers Faulkner and Stephen King have touted the phrase and for good reason. So what does the phrase actually mean?

Your darling is a bit of writing you particularly love (whether it’s a great line of description, turn of phrase, or lovable character) but need to cut because it doesn’t advance the story in any way. This is extremely hard to do. But doing so will strengthen your story as a whole, getting rid of unnecessary filler and fluff, no matter how much you love it. Your story needs to keep moving forward unimpeded.

DariuszSankowski / Pixabay

So how do we know when it’s time to kill our darlings?

  • When a character doesn’t affect the plot or serve a purpose. Every character should have a goal they are working toward and should have a reason for existing.
  • When it’s too much backstory. Only 10% of backstory should make it into your actual story. No info dumps.
  • When it slows down your pacing. Your job is to keep the story moving forward, not pausing for a grandiose description.
  • When it’s a weak or unresolved subplot. Subplots should advance the story, adding extra layers to the plot and theme. But if it’s unnecessary and doesn’t serve a purpose, it needs to be cut. Also, all subplots should be resolved by the end (unless you’re writing a series).
  • Extraneous scenes. Once again the plot needs to progress forward, not meander all over the place. You might love this scene for its dialogue and character interaction, but is it doing anything for your story? Readers don’t want to read pointless scenes no matter how well written they are.
  • Meaningless romance. Every story has several subplots, including romantic ones, but you want to make sure they’re not pointless indulgences because you want your character to have a perfect life.

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Now you don’t have to lose your darlings completely when you cut them. I always keep a separate word file I call leftovers and save my cut darlings to there. It makes it easier to kill them and I can use them for later WiPs. Do you struggle with killing your darlings? What are your tips for finding and killing them? Comment below and happy killing.


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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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