October 14, 2013

Kill Your Darlings - Uh, Define Darlings!

Kill your darlings is a term frequently used in writing that I’ve seen interpreted many different ways. So I went in search of the true meaning of kill your darlings.


“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” --William Faulkner

This literary advice refers to the dangers of an author using personal favorite elements. While these may hold special meaning for the author, they can cause readers to roll their eyes for reasons such as:

-Purple prose
 
-Narm
 
-Egregious overuse of a word or phrase
Did he seriously just use the word "egregious" up there? Dude, kill your darlings.
William Faulkner supposedly advised writers to kill their "darlings," those little bits of glitter a writer thinks are simply marvelous. To the reader lacking that maternal attitude, they are at best distracting, at worst a reason to stop reading. (Wiki, maybe? hard to tell who to credit so here's the link)

I was also surprised to discover the term has been adopted by software writers in some related way. I wasn’t aware that code could contain any ‘fluff,’ but it seems that all types of ‘writers; love their ‘words’ to a fault.

Nowhere in any definition did I find that kill your darlings means to kill off a favored character. Those of you who were under that impression can stop killing off those we love under the guise you are doing it for your craft. You are breaking our hearts. Please stop!

If you are like me, you knew it applied to editing, but thought it a broader scope that told you to stop talking so darned much and to just get to the point. In other words, don’t take 120K words to tell an 80K word story.

Regardless of what you thought the term meant, it is a useful piece of advice to keep in mind while going into your editing process. And once again, the kids are safe.

What is your favorite editing advice?

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