I've heard this expression over and over again for as long as I've been writing. Recently I have been reading Stephen King's On Writing and I have finally come to realize what this phrase means!
Yes, I know, I'm slow...not to be mistaken with blond, although my husband would beg to differ...
Killing your darlings...
Before I thought it meant that you should kill your darlings! As in whichever character you learned to love while writing your novel you should kill off in the end.
Bittersweet endings are better than la-di-da ones, right? Again, my husband's opinion ;)
And maybe some authors do kill off their characters after they invest an entire book on them -likeJodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper killed off poor little Anna. And yes, it invokes a heart wrenching emotional response that stays with the reader long after they take up another book.
However, that's not what kill your darlings means. Maybe to some people, but not to me. I know who my darlings are now...
My darlings consist of one or two phrases, or a couple paragraphs. Even a whole chapter. Words strung together that I've poured my heart and soul and sweat and blood and tears into. I've worked on them for hours, my effort plainly see in the perfection of the beautifully executed prose...but, for whatever reason, and totally beyond my control...they don't go.
They don't work with the story.
For whatever reason, they work against the flow, the pace, the story. They take up too much space. They repeat again and again, however eloquently, the same things I've mentioned in previous chapters.
So, for this exact reason - no matter how much I love and adore my darlings - I have to let them go. I can't keep them. They have to go.
Too many words - no matter how wonderfully written - are just that. Extra.
So, what do you do? Keep it there just because you can't just delete your wonderful hard work? And risk your entire novel sounding horrible because you said the same thing a hundred wonderful times too many?
Yes, I'm repeatedly rambling on here to make a point...
No matter how much it hurts...you have to kill your darlings.
Save your darlings in a separate file. Maybe you'll be able to use them again. They are good, no great, after all. Of course you'll be able to use them somewhere else in the future. Maybe another book.
Do whatever you have to do to make yourself feel better about killing them.
And then...kill them...kill them all!
So, what will be left, after the slaughter? A clean, streamlined book that gets straight to the point without filler. Beautiful!
Once you see how perfect your novel starts to sound without all those dead darlings hanging around, you'll start to respect the task. And yes, it will be easier as you go. Maybe like me, you'll even look forward to slashing and slaying your chapters to make them read clean and true. This is what the second draft is all about. Finding out what your story is really about and then streamlining everything, getting rid of the extra nonsense. Don't want to loose that momentum, right?
Keep those files around. Maybe you can use them later...
But for now, just kill.
Kill! Kill! Kill!
You and your story will be better for it...