May 2015 - Be Fearless: 'Kill Your Darlings'

     More than a century ago, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Cambridge University lecturer, authored the term, "murder your darlings.William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King, and Mark Twain also received attribution for the writing advice: "Kill Your Darlings.This phrase instructs the writer to edit and revise without emotional attachment. These three words remind writers to weed their writing of extraneous descriptions and flowery language.

       Every writer is guilty of harboring 'darlings' in my manuscripts. They include characters, settings, favorite words, phrases, and places. When I take off my writer's hat and put on my editor's glasses my darlings become glaring.

         One must plan to "kill their darlings."
1) Put the manuscript away. Give your document a rest. Clear your mind and desk of any evidence of its existence.
2) Exam your work as if is you are editing someone else's manuscript. Search for the following 'darling' symptoms:

  • cliches: they make the writer look lazy
  • rambling descriptions: the reader wants the plot to flow
  • semicolons: if you think you need a semicolon, check to see if you need a period instead
  •  characters names starting with the same letter or rhyming with another character: readers want each character to be an individual
  • redundancies: words or following a perfect sentence with another sentence with the same message.

3) Clear language is a goal. Eliminate excessive use of adverbs and prepositional phrases.
4)  Ensure the pacing and momentum of the story is smooth and steady.
5)  Read your manuscript aloud.

          Seems simple, but these are our "darlings." We are attached to them. We like them or don't even recognize how comfortable we are with them. So if you are paralyzed by love and can't remove your darlings, create a file and place the remains of all your "darlings" in this file. The removal of your words won't seem as final if they are in exiled in a file named "darlings.Perhaps one of our stashed "darling" can be resurrected in another story.


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