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Murdering your Darlings

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” – Stephen King: On Writing

No I don’t mean that parents should kill unruly children despite what the Bible says. The term refers to having a ruthless approach to editing your fiction. No matter how much you cherish a passage, a section or an entire chapter, you must be prepared to let it go. Figuratively, not literally, I have taken a hacksaw to my novel this weekend and I am going to give it the most thorough edit it has ever had. Nothing will be safe: no chapter, no event and no character will be immune from the chop this time around.

I edited two chapters over the course of yesterday and have already made some cursory changes. Though these have been purely aesthetic so far, I’ve removed whole sentences, whole paragraphs and for that key first chapter I have changed the emotive impact of the events. I feel it is already a stronger chapter for it. I’m generally happy with chapter 2, it is probably the one chapter that had received the most attention because it introduces the primary protagonist and I felt I had to get that right. Even so, it too has undergone some changes though this was a case of “trimming fat” rather than outright butchery.

Tracking my changes, I chopped around 500 words out of those first two chapters. Some of that volume was reinstated for things I felt needed emphasis or further explanation (but I will try not to do too much of that – I will only do it where I feel emphasis is necessary). I’ve never been one for exposition as I hate it when others do it but a little extra explanation can sometimes go a long way. Besides, as a novel evolves, you tend to have a greater idea of earlier events and you need to go back and either reduce or increase the importance of proceedings that happened before the start of the novel, or events in the past that could be relevant to future events.

Thinking through to later in the novel, there is plenty of text that I felt worked at the time of writing but now I am not so sure whether it does/will still work.

There’s some fantastic advice here from the SFWA on “murdering your darlings”. Here are some of my favourites from that list:

Clumsy entrances and exits. Don’t waste time moving people around; too many doors open and close in fiction. If you want the UPS man to deliver a mysterious parcel, he doesn’t need to knock, come in, and ask Reggie to sign for it.

One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to describe somebody entering a room, crossing it, opening the door and leaving again. Why do we do it? Why do we go to such intricate detail when it is so unnecessary? We’ve all been guilty of this but the key is to let the reader fill in the gaps. I don’t think I’ve been guilty of this.

Arriving early; staying late. Not all stories start on page one — only the good ones. If you’re the first at the party, there’s usually nothing to do until the other guests arrive except to stand around and admire the furniture. Writers who start their stories too early have the same problem. They waste time describing the china on the breakfast table, the daisies nodding in the garden.

I’m pretty sure I have been guilty of this in the novel and I will definitely keep an eye out for it.


2 thoughts on “Murdering your Darlings

    1. So far I have only edited three chapters so it has been relatively straightforward. I think it will get harder when I come up against the chapters/scenes that I previously considered untouchable.

      Thanks for reading!

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