Sunday, December 15, 2013

killing your darlings

Every writer knows the phrase, “Kill your darlings,” because every writer knows exactly how necessary the act is. But up until very recently - like, just now – I never really understood why this sentiment carried so much weight, why so many writers vehemently shouted it from the rooftops. Up until very recently, these were my thoughts on the matter:

Kill my darlings? Pfft. Easy. Darlings, shmarlings. I can cut anything at anytime, no matter how perfect or wonderful I think it is. Nothing is sacred.*

Very often, I take this too far. Sometimes I get feedback on a manuscript and think, “That’s it! Everything must go. A total rewrite is in order.” (It’s times like these that my agent rolls her eyes and bites her tongue while I sleep on it and come to my senses. She is a wise, wise lady.) Sometimes total rewrites are what’s needed. But not always.

Anyways. I’ve been trucking along on these revisions for a while now, and then, out of the blue, I get to this scene that I really love that needs to be cut. But instead of deleting that darling, it stopped me dead.

Surely, not this scene, I thought to myself. But the reasons for cutting it were sound. No matter how hard I tried to sabotage those reasons, they blocked me at every turn. So I held my breath and closed my eyes and cut the scene. And then I kept on trucking.

And lo and behold, it happened again. Another scene that I adored needed to be cut for very sound reasons. Not this one, I thought. This one is special. And I clung. And I clung. And I clung.

Finally I had to take a step back and realize I’d been deluding myself all these years.

Killing your darlings is really, really hard.

There are some scenes that you will write that are perfect and poetic and insightful and whatever else it is that endears them to you. Sometimes, though, those scenes have the power to weaken the narrative. And when that happens, they must go. The needs of the narrative as a whole are always more important than your desire to coddle that one little scene you desperately love.

So steel yourself (wine helps) and then go kill those darlings.

*I do believe in the sacred, very much so. I just also believe in exaggeration.

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