Thursday, April 13, 2017

A to Z: Killing The Darlings

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

That painful post in which we discuss Killing our darlings. Grab your tissues and a comfort beverage. We're going to relive some trauma.

If you have written a short story and edited it, you're familiar with chopping off a favorite sentence or two. Maybe it was a witty or touching line of dialogue, or a clever description. You mourned the loss with a sigh or a sniff.

Novels tend to have a lot more trauma simply because there are a lot more words involved. If you've written for a while, like, say, you're on your third or seventh novel, there will likely be a lot less darling killing going on. Once you've experienced the trauma, you'll work hard to avoid it. Even us pantsers will do everything possible to avoid it, including a bit of planning, even if it's all in our heads.

I once wrote a novel (my first) and spend years making it wonderful (a bloated mess) because I was learning (a lot) and didn't want to let it go. And so I give you (after much learning and wonderful and patient critique partners), a look into my own first editing trauma.

You're happily reading along during an editing pass when you suddenly realize the Barthromians, a race of people you've enjoyed working into your masterful sci-fi novel over several revisions, who have been with you for years while working on this novel, need to be deleted. Cruelly wiped from existence! Ripped from the very pages of your novel! All because your MC can avoid that interaction completely and accomplish the same character development in a lot less words using a different race also in the story.  Not to mention, you may or may not have named them something that sounds like bathroom as a joke. We're done there, right? No.

That romantic evening with the fancy dance party where everyone is dressed up was fun to write, but totally doesn't fit in with the rest of the story once it's all put together. But dammit, it was fun to write and makes you feel all fuzzy inside! How special. Hand me the chainsaw.

The special weapon that makes your MC super dangerous also makes them a bit too powerful to be believable - but there's a whole backstory to how she got it and she uses it in three fights and...and... Yeah, suck it up. It needs to go.

But what about that cool space ship design you spent days on? No.

The guy who the MC violently and graphically kills in a jealous fit of rage? If he's going to be the PROtagonist, no.

The early version of the MC who shared a name with a character in a cartoon you liked as a kid? No.

Okay, can I keep the third ex partner of the MC? We spent a lot of time on him and there's that whole backstory! We get the point from the fact she already has two ex partners. Axe him.

But I can keep MC's best friend, right? She needs friends. We need a workable word count. No.

I let the cool weapon go. Can she keep her special power cybernetic eyes? For the same reason, no.

Fine. But I'm keeping the spiffy new body armor. No, you're not. Gone.

You get the idea. These are some of the many things I've cut from one novel. And I talk to myself a lot in person and in blog posts. It's totally normal. *nods reassuringly*

This is where I offer consolation and suggest starting each major editing pass with a new document because it makes losing these people, places, and things you've spend so much time on, less painful. They're not gone, but they're not cluttering up your finished piece either. And you never know, there might come a time when that very thing will come in handy in another story. Repurposing darlings
is another coping skill when you have major losses. Blogging about my discarded darlings was also good therapy.

If you want more examples of darlings I've had to cut, visit the Victims of the Knife posts. Some have been lucky enough to come back. We'll visit one such lucky guy on X day.

Have you had to kill any darlings lately?


  1. That's a lot of cutting! I'm currently editing too, and I've cut out a redundant scene, a minor character, and other things that were slowing down the story. Still working on what I have to kill in the part leading up to the climax.

    1. We create the words...and then we take them away.

  2. I have not written a book but on a minor scale, I understand. I keep having to remove sections of posts that include my sentimental favorites. After reading them over with a critical eye (at least I try to do that), I realize I only added the section because I wanted it in there. It did not add to the story.

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador | Kinder Eggs - Contraband

  3. Again, non-fiction... I had to cut some tales from tale collections, as much as I loves them, because I could not find their original source and verify that they were not under copyright... not everything is a folktale that looks like it...

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

  4. It can be heartbreaking to lose scenes, let alone characters. But, yes, it's often for the best.

  5. Oh yes, it's terrible to kill darlings, even in non-fiction. I've just had to chop a whole lot of fascinating information about the Red Sea (as in the crossing thereof) because it has NOTHING to do with my story about Miriam! Painful. Maybe I could write a book about The Red Sea? "NO." (See? You're not the only one who speaks to herself!) K is for Kindle and KDP as you Build a Better Blog. #AtoZchallenge.

    1. But you could... heh. Glad I'm not alone there. :D

  6. Don't remind me, I am presently busy deleting two characters from my fourth novel. They had their own story (2nd one in the series) and were playing way too big a role in number 4. It is not fun doing that to characters that you love. Great post!

  7. I have an inordinate amount of trouble doing this. Even when I cut, I save to a separate file in case I change my mind.


  8. Yup, killing your darlings is one of the hardest parts about writing, but so very important. And I've definitely killed some, then had them come back to life later, zombie-style. Sometimes they can be moved to a different story/book, so that tends to make me feel better about the process...

  9. It can be hard, but like you say, those things could always star in their own short story or pop up somewhere else. And even if not, they'll live on in our memory!

  10. Hi Jean - Killing the darlings ... what a good way to go ... but it's so sad when we have to take the knife to them ... well done - but as Nick says they live on and no doubt we talk to them ... I know I do - and I'm not even writing a novel or short story ... cheers Hilary


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