Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To Kill a Darling

Thanks to everyone who commented on my 200 words. Your feedback was very helpful.

Killing your darlings, trimming the fat, if you will, you know what I'm talking about. Those scenes your characters told you to write, but they don't fit the story. The ones you read and then a pit forms in the upper part of your stomach because you know you must get rid of it. A CP might of mention it with a red comment box or they may simply put a black line through it. So, your finger trembles as it hovers over the delete button. Your instinct says do it and your heart says no. Yeah, those. This is my next round of revisions. It sometimes makes me sad because some of those scenes I really love, but they must be gone.

So what do you look for? Scenes that do not move the story forward, and really (to me), just seem like filler. They are not easy to spot. They will be in disguise and may require someone else to force them out. Trust me, they give me the puppy dog eyes all the time, making me love them.

Why do we write them? Sometimes to get the know the character, story, or setting better. It's not bad to write them, you have to understand that they are helping you, just not helping the overall delivery of the story, and so, sadly, they must be chopped, killed if you will.

How do you find them? Remember they will be in disguise, making you love them, playing all innocent. So, you will most likely not be the first person to see them. Most of the time (95% of the time), for me, a CP will say, "It slows here for me." Or "This doesn't need to be here." Other times (5% of the time), I'm the one who sees that the scene isn't working. Ask yourself, "Does this have anything to do with the final outcome of the story?" "Is it forwarding my character along, helping them get to the goal I've given them?" If the answer is no, then chop it. Don't worry, the police won't come for you, in fact, your CPs and future readers will love you for it.

Tell me, what questions do you ask yourself to help you see what you must chop?

A couple of interesting posts on the subject
Writing rules misapplied

How to kill your darlings without remorse

The meaning of the literary expression "Kill your Darlings"

K is for Kill your Darlings

Have a great day!


  1. Usually I can tell by a CPs response to it. Or on rereading I realize it was too much of a sequel. I have to go with my gut.

  2. If there isn't a reason for it, I cut it. Although sometimes this takes multiple rounds of edits w/ my cp saying, "Nothing is happening...Why am I reading this?" me: "B/c it's good." her: "Beth, be stubborn to your own demise." And finally it will get chopped.

  3. I have a lot of trouble with this aspect, because some of those scenes can be my favorites. I've found that when I identify a scene that needs to go, if I cut it and paste it into its own document it isn't as hard as killing it outright. I start an "outtake" doc, and gather them there. It's not like killing them, just exiling them ;-)

  4. I agree with Katie. I save them and post them into another document, so I'm preserving them for a later date. Believe it or not, I have gone back and used snippets of what I wrote. Good post!

  5. I wish I had to chop more! I write so bare bones, I have to go back and add so much.

  6. I find it more easier to kill my darlings when I've given my MS some time and space. With fresh eyes, it's easier to trim and I can see all the fat clearer.

    Geez, talk about a metaphor-loaded comment!

  7. Usually I end up doing massive deletions after my revisions cause the motive (and thus story) to change. The old scenes no longer work in the new story.

  8. What a great post, Christine! Cutting your manuscript to ribbons is definitely not easy, but, I can tell you from experience that it only makes your story all the stronger.

    As you know I'm smack in the middle of ripping my WIP all up. It's hard work but I love revising. I think I'm weird!!

  9. ...what's worked best for me is to get it all out there, done and finished. Then I walk away from it for a while, a week or two, and return with a fresh take on things. I'll read the entire story aloud, listening to the silliness. The mistakes one will catch simply by hearing them read aloud are an amazing thing ;)


  10. When I see something I have to chop, I ask myself what *I* like so much about it. Then I take whatever I like about it and put it somewhere else :D

  11. I used to ask myself if back story is a *bad* idea until I read all the YA/MG out there with a TON of back story in the first chapter. Now I ask myself if it is warranted. Great post!

  12. I try my best to decipher what I write for the story and what I write for myself. If something is clearly written for my own benefit (and so much of my writing is), I delete it. It was good to get it down; I feel doing so releases thoughts into the atmosphere. But, that doesn't mean it needs to be included in the manuscript. I find that once I finish a W.I.P. and step away for a bit, the fat jumps off the page and points itself out. Once I know where I'm going, I remove anything that delays the reader from getting there.