Kill Your Darlings

Reader, did you know “Kill Your Darlings” is now a movie? Starring Daniel Radcliffe? And here I thought it was only a William Faulkner quote. Turns out it’s actually an adaptation of a Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch quote:

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
—Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

I first came across the phrase in a writing workshop, where we spent a good hour debating how it applied to our writing. No, Reader, you don’t have to murder your favorite characters just to keep the story interesting.

For example, with my writing, the phrase applies to passages in a story which I initially think are wonderful, brilliant, inspired, and worthy of a trophy or two. Maybe then I revise, and the story starts to veer away from unrequited love complicated by a murder, and instead the main conflict turns towards a war of wills between father and daughter. And yet my “darling” is the page where I capture the essence of the ache of one-sided love. It doesn’t fit anymore, but I want it to fit. I cut it here, paste it there – doesn’t work. I change the lead-in sentences – doesn’t work. I make it the prologue, then the epilogue – doesn’t work. I’m faced with it then – kill your darlings. Oh, it hurts, Reader. I have a file on my computer where my darlings wait for me to resurrect them. They’ll haunt you if you let them.

Princess Bride(1987)
The guy is me, and the girl represents my darlings. As you wish, darlings. The Princess Bride (1987)

But no one will force you to kill your darlings, Reader.  Just remember: when you’re in love with a passage of your writing, that love clouds your vision. The passage could be good fiction, bad poetry, bad memoir masquerading as good travel-writing, or it could simply need a couple rounds of revision. You’ll never know because you’re too in love. I recommend seeking a second opinion.

So what do you think, Reader? Me, I’m no murder advocate. Revision for the win!

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