Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Killing My Darlings

The great Southern writer William Faulkner once said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."

For the longest time I believed that to mean that when your very best description or funniest scene (sometimes the best writing you've ever done) conflicts with the story, you must get rid of it.

Kill it.

All writing must serve the story.

This is true and I've taken out some damn good writing on that premise.  The phrase "kill all your darlings," though, has taken on a different meaning for me recently, one that most novelists fundamentally understand, but that I've always struggled with.

As the writer, I have to get my main characters into trouble.  Period.

Kill my darlings, or at least make'em sweat.

Not to do so cheats those wonderful readers I'm trying so hard to cultivate out of the very reason they pick up a story.  Me, as well.  When I pick up a novel, something big better damn well happen or I'll consider the experience hours I'll never get back.

When I give birth to characters in my imagination, I care for them or they would not have attracted me in the first place.  I don't want bad things to happen to folks I love.  Don't want bad things to happen to my characters and therein is the paradox.  While I don't want to hurt my characters, I have to bring huge conflict into their lives or who-the-hell is going to want to read?

Me either.

So, here in draft four, I'm going to have to make things more difficult for my protagonists, taking them right to the edge of a cliff and dangle them off the drop.

They must then work to save themselves.

I don't have to kill the characters per se.  That's not what "killing all your darlings" means to me in this context.  I just have to make them work for it.

And, being a lifelong romantic, I'm rooting for them even while I'm being sadistic as hell.

Back to Draft 4.


  1. Oh my....think of them as actors in a play. They'll live to star another day.

  2. Makes me think about soap operas, they traumatize, maim, and kill off main characters but always find a way to bring them back. Good luck with Draft 4!

  3. I think what Faulkner meant was not to fall in love with your writing so much that you cannot see it objectively. There is that first flush when you read your words and think -- this is so good. Then reading those words a few days later, not so good. And, "if is sounds like writing, re-write." (Mark Twain)

  4. Wow Rocky, you teach me so much. I can't wait to see what you do to your darlings!! xx

  5. LOL, Rocky - your poor darlings are in for it now! ;-) It's true that dramatic tension draws us in and a happy resolution is le yum. But yeah, we want to see our heroes work for it, don't we? Maybe it's 'cause it gives us hope that a happy ending awaits us, too...
    Some Dark Romantic

  6. Delores -- Yes, that's good. Actors in a pley.

    Vicki -- Thanks for the good wishes on Draft 4

    loverofwords -- Love the Twain quote.

    Jodie -- you'll definitely get to see what I do to my darlings.

    Mina - Oh, yes, it does give us hope that we'll have that happy ending, too. All the best!


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