Kill your darlings

Perhaps one of the best gifts I’ve ever received was from one of my editors, and like many great gifts, I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time. It was the book On Writing by Stephen King.

I’m not a big fan of King’s work – I don’t enjoy horror, and I find his writing to be too wordy by half (an amusing criticism coming from me, I’ll admit). He is a great writer though, and this book taught me much. Of all the lessons, this quote encapsulates the one that stuck with me the most:

kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings

Wow. We’ve all heard the saying “less is more”, but those words encapsulate not only the necessity of editing, but the difficulty of it. It’s hard to cut away the words you labored over for so long, the words you thought were perfect for this exact place and time. It feels like an artist taking a painting off the wall and lighting it on fire; all that time, effort, and earnest love, fwump! …gone from this world forever.

And yet I must. I must cut them away because it will make the story stronger, and I owe it to all of you to give you the very best story I can. No, that’s not it–I owe it to myself, and to the story. There’s an ideal I hold in my mind, and though I will never do it justice, I wish to see it brought into this world. The story is what is important; the words must always serve it.

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it hurts, kill your darlings. Alright, Mr. King. I’m on it.

Status report: Over the past few days I’ve deleted thousands of words, including multiple scenes that just did not need to exist. There will likely be more to come. Maybe if I didn’t write so much the first time, it wouldn’t take so long to edit. Something to consider.

6 thoughts on “Kill your darlings

  1. One of those cases of ‘less is more’? And I agree that it is a funny concept coming from King. I’ve not read anything of his but I’ve heard about them.

  2. Lol my college literature teacher would speak of King’s personal experience the opposite. When they’re were in college together King would bring tall stacks of his work to their own literature teacher every week. I guess this is where King has to learn when to cut them down for everyone’s sake.

    • Ahaha, I’m not surprised. I think King is just given to wordiness, and with his overwhelming popularity no one can edit him anymore (or he’s not bothering). Some of his older works were notably shorter though – Carrie was only like 250 pages, compared to his latest 1000+ page bludgeon.

      Still, whether Mr. King takes it himself doesn’t invalidate the worth of the advice. I’ll just have to curb my own wordy tendencies better than he does, I suppose.

  3. Maybe George R. R. Martin heard this advice and took it a bit too literally, i.e. going for characters rather than words.

    • Ahaha, more than a few authors do that. Which can work too, for a certain kind of story : )

  4. When good plans go awry – Stilts Out Loud

Comments are closed.