So I read a lot of writing advice. Well, you do, don’t you, when writing is a major interest and you spend most of your time on websites and forums for writers, or reading about writing, or about books, or whatever.
And one of the biggest pieces of advice I see is: kill your darlings.
And I don’t agree with it.
Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t agree in theory, or that I think it’s wrong all the time. Just the other day I cut an entire scene from my WIP, a good scene. It was exciting. It was action-packed. It had what I thought were a couple of really good lines.
But it didn’t advance the story the way I needed it to. So it had to go. And I came up with something else, that I think works much better and is still exciting, but it more atmospheric and deepens the personal conflict and the emotional stakes and ups the danger even more than the original.
And obviously, in working with editors there are times when they tell you something doesn’t work. And no matter how much I might not like it, I simply say okay and remove what they tell me to remove (99.9% of the time.) Because they’re not me; they’re a better judge of what works and what doesn’t, or what feels unecessary or like repetition. The fun of editing, for me, is having someone to work with you and polish everything up, and experience has taught me that (again, 99.9% of the time) they’re right, and the suggested changes make the book much stronger and better even if I grumble to myself about it or don’t understand it at first. So in that case, yes, if it’s one of your darlings on the editing chopping block you go ahead and swing the axe (I keep all of those in separate files, in case I ever have a chance to use them again and have them really work that time.)
But I’m not talking about that type of editing. I’m talking about the advice that tells you to ruthlessly excise any line or scene to which you are particularly attached, because if you like it that much it’s probably showy or unecessary. And I just can’t agree with that.
Because, logically, if you’re removing all the lines and scenes that especially excite you, you’re dulling down your work. You’re altering your voice; you’re taking yourself out of your book. And I think that’s a mistake. It’s those bits, the little jokes and the moments of grace, that make your book yours.
Here’s a little example, a sneak peek from Demon Inside:
The Christmas season always had an air of time suspended anyway, as people spent their days at work eating rumballs and doing shots—which were basically the same thing, if Megan was doing the cooking—opening presents, running into other offices in the building with cookies and snacks…it was like a bubble existed, and in that bubble responsibilities disappeared.
Death was kind of the same way, although with far less tinsel and photocopying of private parts.
Now, you know what? I’m really fond of that little paragraph. It may not be the greatest paragraph ever written but I think it’s pithy and fun and should make a reader smile when they get to it, which is especially important given that this book isn’t as light as the first one.
According to the “Kill your darlings” mob, I should cut it out.
I know, I know. It seems like I’m being overdramatic, doesn’t it? Like it should be obvious they mean kill only those lines and scenes which don’t serve the story but which we clutch to our chests like a fifth grader with a picture of Zac Efron, stubbornly refusing to let them go.
But it doesn’t always sound like that, and it’s not always made obvious when that advice is given. It’s the first piece of advice I tend to see people give new writers, and it bugs me.
Because the trick shouldn’t be in killing your darlings, it should be in making the entire ms good enough that you don’t need to have darlings. It should be in learning to be objective and decide what works and what doesn’t, and I don’t think “kill your darlings” conveys that well enough to someone just starting out. It should be in serving the story, and doing what needs to be done to serve the story, rather than abiding by “rules”.
What oft-heard piece of writing advice do you disagree with?