It’s a phrase that makes my arm hairs stand up every time I say it, every time I think it. Kill your Darlings. Who would do such a thing? Who would even think up such a horrid plan? Well…writers, that’s who. And today— on this most darling day seventeen— I thought it might be nice to chat a little bit about what it means to Kill your Darlings.
I really could not tell you where the phrase Kill your Darlings came from. If I’m to believe the darling brain-dump that is the internet, then, apparently, the phrase was coined by American writer, William Faulkner, who said, ‘In writing, you must kill your darlings.’
Now, you might be thinking: Gee whizz, Brooke. That was a man with some real anger issues. Well…yeah. You may be right (because you know how much I love words, and who on earth would put the words ‘kill’ and ‘darling’ in the same sentence! Omg. I can’t even.)
But. The whole idea behind his grizzly phrase— I totally get it. And it really is a necessary evil when it comes to crafting a story that will make both writers and readers all shiny and jolly inside.
Traditionally, the phrase Kill your Darlings means that, in order to make your work great, you will need to leave your ego at the door. Ego is a me thing, after all, not a we thing (and books and stories should be all about we things, don’t you think?) That means smothering the ego. Deleting any sentences, paragraphs or words that make you smile but probably no one else.
When I’m writing, my little ego minions often step in with a standing ovation, a spirit-fed stoke of my writerly fire. And these tiny little ego minions…well, I kind of think they’re awesome. Because when they do come at me with their sweet words of encouragement—their little yellow arms waving giant pom-poms to celebrate all my wonderful— that’s when I know: this little ego fed darling just may need to meet the trash can. I flag it. And then, more often than not, I kill it.
I also have a wider idea of what the phrase Kill your Darlings might mean. Yes, I absolutely agree that the ego fed darlings of my work must be killed from time-to-time, particularly if they jar with the story, character or voice. But I also think the phrase is a good one to remember during the overall editing process—the finished draft is done and now, like Dumbledore’s Phoenix, it must die to become beautiful, once again. Unnecessary words must be cut and ego fed sentences must be well and truly buried, because in writing…less really does seem to be more.
I know, I know. Why would you do something so vicious to one of your darlings? How could killing it possibly make things better? Well. Here’s where I admit the truth. I don’t know how that magic works. All I know is that whenever I Kill my Darlings…they become better.
Now, where is that red pen of mine?