The Point of the Quill

Have You Killed Your Darlings Today?

 

editing your workI once posted on my twitter feed, “I’m killing my darlings.” Most-likely, non-writers were horrified. Those writers that follow me probably smiled. I was, of course, editing my work.

We all have to do this evil thing, which is really quite beautiful and necessary in the writing process. We would take our readers directly out of our carefully crafted story world if we put in a flowery phrase for no other reason than because we are proud to have put those words in that order.

“Aren’t I just adorable?”

Here is where your problems start. If you find yourself rereading a passage you wrote…just because; kill it. Murder it. Delete it. If you must, take it out of your work and put it by your bedside so you can look at it. Don’t show it to anyone else and don’t, I repeat, do not put it in another work. When you leave your darlings in, the ones that just sit there on the page and smile at you saying to themselves, “Aren’t I just adorable?”, those little darlings will ruin your work.

 

This is part of the writing process. A very large part of it.

 

Don’t Leave Your Readers Time to Breath

Writing is about conflict. Without conflict, in your story’s situation, between characters in the story world or conflict within a character, there would be no great books.

Gillian Flynn, the author of the bestseller, Gone Girl, has taken conflict and strewn it throughout every aspect of this story world. You can’t find many sentences without conflict somewhere. That’s what makes it so great, and horrifying.

Rolling Stones¹ magazine did an interview with her which you can read online. (See link below.)

If you’ve read the book, you know that feeling of wanting the world to stop so you can read until the book is done. If there were any of Flynn’s darlings in there, it would have given you pause to sleep and go on with your tomorrow. All of her darlings were murdered.

Every Murder Needs a Detective

A clarification on the exact meaning of the phrase and who said it: Slate²as a great article about the movie Kill Your Darlings. The term means that as writers, we must take our favorite passages in our work out if they don’t further the story progression. It has been used, improperly, to refer to killing or creating conflict for your protagonist.

It has also been attributed to all manner of writers: Faulkner, Chekov, Ginsberg, Hemingway, Welty, Wilde. Just name your author. Steven King repeated it in his great craft book and autobiography: Steven King, On Writing. The true source of this oft-repeated phrase is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who lectured at Cambridge in the early 20th c. And whose lecture, which you may find at Bartleby³, is one best combed through with diligence. His original quote was, “Murder your darlings.” We’ve heard all manner of iterations but now Slate² and, more importantly, I have attributed the phrase correctly to the source.

Bookmark Bartleby with the URL address below. Yes, I am partial to Sir Quiller-Couch’s name, as you might imagine, but the lecture is above reproach and handily useful to any writer.

Lest you think that he eschewed all manner of writing, listen to him on the subject of, what we term, the living language:

“Literature must needs take account of all manner of writers, audiences, moods, occasions; I hold it a sin against the light to put up a warning against any word that comes to us in the fair way of use and wont (as ‘wire,’ for instance, for a telegram), even as surely as we should warn off hybrids or deliberately pedantic impostors, such as ‘antibody’ and ‘picture-drome’; and that, generally, it is better to err on the side of liberty than on the side of the censor: since by the manumitting of new words we infuse new blood into a tongue of which (or we have learnt nothing from Shakespeare’s audacity) our first pride should be that it is flexible, alive, capable of responding to new demands of man’s untiring quest after knowledge and experience.”

 

 

I hope you are deftly killing your darlings and staying true to the storyline in each line of your writing.

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Happy writing!

Sources:

1. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/features/gone-girl-author-gillian-flynn-i-killed-my-darlings-20141003

2. Slate, Kill Your Darlings

3. http://www.bartleby.com/190/

Any thoughts on this? What is your opinion?