“Kill your darlings.” It’s been said many, many times by experienced authors.
The phrase has been attributed to writers as well-known as William Faulkner and Stephen King. Who originally said it appears to have been neither.
But what it means for a writer is the important thing.
The phrase is meant to communicate that the ideas and phrases that you as the author tend to think are your “best work,” usually are not.
The ones you like the most, care about the most, and have the most emotional investment in, are typically the phrases that need to go.
So you must kill your darlings as you edit.
I didn’t believe it to be true when I first read it.
I do now.
That’s because I’ve been doing the 2nd round of editing on my follow-up novel to “Dragon Slayer: Beginnings,” which I’m tentatively calling, “Dragon Slayer: Rising.” In this round of editing I’m discovering something I didn’t really believe about myself…
I can be pretty verbose. In other words, I use a lot of words to say things.
That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, if the number of words I’m using are necessary to communicate what I want to communicate (see, there I go again).
But for a fiction writer, it can be a HUGE problem.
Folks who read a story need to get lost in it. Good writing should be such that the reader doesn’t even notice the language and words because they are communicating story rather than drawing attention to themselves. When the words do draw attention to themselves, either through bad word choices, improper word usage, or unnecessarily verbose sentences, the author has failed.
Trim, trim, trim
That’s what I’ve found myself doing in this editing round, repeatedly. Sometimes I’m astounded that I thought a particular phrase sounded good in the first place. Other times I simply feel that it’s not clicking and I have to think on it, rephrase it myriad times, or cut it altogether because it’s not helpful or needed.
And the meaning behind the saying “kill your darlings” is true: I often have to implement courage and get rid of some of my favorite ideas or phrases because they don’t serve the story as they should. Sometimes I can get rid of them by reworking them, other times I have to kill them. Mercilessly.
I suspect this discovery is somewhere in the growth curve of every fiction writer. None of us is as masterful with language as we think. None of us is as good a story-teller as we want to believe we are.
We learn humility through the process of self-editing and in the next step of having others suggest edits.
And I think humility makes a good author in the end.