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blacbird
04-10-2014, 11:04 AM
We've had any number of threads here concerning bad, hackneyed, meaningless bits of common advice doled out to writers, often by other very successful writers. An entire book could probably be compiled of comments concerning "Show, don't tell," as just one example.

But I'm going to nominate this oft-repeated nugget as one of the dumbest pieces of writer's advice I've ever seen. And, yes, I know that the immortal Stephen King has uttered it, among many others.

I teach composition to intro-level university students. Inevitably, that involves critiquing their writing, and making various comments about grammar, and suggestions for ways of making what they are trying to express more concise, more effective, etc.

But I also make comments about what is done well in their writing, and I try very hard to get them to recognize both the good stuff and the stuff that could stand more work. You need to be able to recognize when you really nail something in a phrase or a sentence, when you get it just the way it needs to be.

"Kill your darlings" is idiotic advice, if your "darling" is exactly what needs to be there, in that place, at that moment in the story. A writer needs to be able to make that judgment, to recognize that "darling," fully as much as being able to recognize the crap that needs to be rewritten, reworked, or even just thrown away.

I hereby declare my intolerance for that hackneyed phrase, and propose that it be banished forthwith from any set of pithy utterances intended to give writer's advice on improving their writing.

caw

slhuang
04-10-2014, 11:37 AM
Yup. Seconded.

I'm reminded of this delightful piece by Ursula Vernon:
http://www.redwombatstudio.com/blog/2013/09/13/not-always-killing-your-darlings/

There's certainly merit to the idea that one should not cling to one's pet bits at the expense of the manuscript. But "do not cling to your favorite scenes or turns of phrase if excising them is what you need to improve the piece as a whole" feels far more obvious and far less pithy, and people like a good sound bite. :rolleyes:

Becky Black
04-10-2014, 11:44 AM
I agree that given just as "kill your darlings" it's silly. It makes people think that if they particularly love a bit of writing then they must delete it - which is daft. I interpret it as meaning that no matter how much you like a bit of description, or dialogue or whatever, if it doesn't fit where you are trying to put it, it has to go.

A darling I killed once was a bit of dialogue I loved, thought was witty, was a fun bit of military speak. But it didn't fit. It didn't fit the character (he just wasn't that funny) and it didn't fit the tone of the scene. It didn't fit the situation at that point in the story. No matter how much I liked it, the story had the casting vote. The story always wins. It had to go.

But if you love a bit of writing because it fits and works perfectly, then of course you don't cut it just because you love it. If anything you might cut other things that weaken the impact of that especially good bit.

Ken
04-10-2014, 02:21 PM
I agree that given just as "kill your darlings" it's silly. It makes people think that if they particularly love a bit of writing then they must delete it - which is daft. I interpret it as meaning that no matter how much you like a bit of description, or dialogue or whatever, if it doesn't fit where you are trying to put it, it has to go.

A darling I killed once was a bit of dialogue I loved, thought was witty, was a fun bit of military speak. But it didn't fit. It didn't fit the character (he just wasn't that funny) and it didn't fit the tone of the scene. It didn't fit the situation at that point in the story. No matter how much I liked it, the story had the casting vote. The story always wins. It had to go.

But if you love a bit of writing because it fits and works perfectly, then of course you don't cut it just because you love it. If anything you might cut other things that weaken the impact of that especially good bit.

Pretty much sums it up for me. Sometimes it's hard to part with a scene and occasionally a background character that's been introduced. Really difficult because in and of itself the scene or character is ultra-cool. But it has no real relation to the story or it contradicts it in some way: something the protag just wouldn't be involved in, etc. So it's gotta go. The, "darling has gotta be killed." :cry:

Torgo
04-10-2014, 02:25 PM
There's often a way to recycle things that you like but don't fit, I find.

Cathy C
04-10-2014, 02:56 PM
I love detailed description, including describing musing by the characters on the pattern in the wallpaper (which could literally go on for pages.) But the editor of my first book was correct that it slows down the scene too much---for my genre and style of writing, which is fast-paced and action-packed. Ultimitely, I had to choose which "darling" to keep, the action or the description of wallpaper. It was a hard choice, because I wanted readers to love both and be able to pull away from one to appreciate the other. But they just couldn't. I actually know that, because I tried an experiment with several devoted fans of that same series by asking them to read the original manuscript of the first book and ask which they liked better. Without fail, they said they would have put down the book and never picked up another if I hadn't killed that particular darling of mine.

Now, I could have chosen to write more literary style of books where my beautiful description could stand and be appreciated, but paranormal thrillers is where my head lies, so I have to write for reader desires, as much as it dovetails with my style. Because I write for the readers' enjoyment, not for my own needs.

So, I agree and disagree with the idiom. Mostly, it's a case of understanding what it means to an individual author, their style and their chosen genre . . . and it's an experiential thing that I don't know that can be taught in abstract to another person. :Shrug:

Becky Black
04-10-2014, 02:57 PM
There's often a way to recycle things that you like but don't fit, I find.

Yes, I've got a note of that bit I cut. One day it might find a home.

Maze Runner
04-10-2014, 03:31 PM
I think if it doesn't inform character (main or a vital bit of color - as far as narrative- for supporting) or story it has to go.

sheadakota
04-10-2014, 05:08 PM
actually that was the best bit of advice i ever got. BUT I tend to write very wordy and I digress- A LOT- so for me it is very good advice- YMMV-

Also I don't edit as i write I just write and my first draft is a total word vomit- so I always need to kill 'em.

If you write cleaner then, yeah I can see where you're coming from Blac.

buz
04-10-2014, 05:37 PM
I've always interpreted that as not meaning "kill everything that seems good to you" but "don't get attached to [x], because it might not serve your purpose." Rather like "if you should meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." [Which is another saying that makes little sense without context and structure around it, and the feeding of interpretation into it ;) ]

Advice taken in neat little quotes without anything conditional, contextual, or qualifying within it is never advisable to take whole. ;)

buirechain
04-10-2014, 05:45 PM
Hmm, I'm going to have to defend it too, really along lines already given. Just before I saw this thread I passed it along in another thread. I've always understood that as "(Be willing to) kill your darlings."

And now I just hope that my point as I made it in that thread had enough context.

bearilou
04-10-2014, 06:32 PM
That's a problem with taking advice too literally. :/

And with soundbite advice.

Renee J
04-10-2014, 06:57 PM
When I first heard this advice, I thought it meant kill off your favorite character. I saw it in a list of Stephen King quotes, so I think that's why I got confused.

amergina
04-10-2014, 06:58 PM
It's really more about knowing when to edit. Don't hold on to things *just* because you love them if they do not serve the story.

Much like "show don't tell" doesn't mean that you need to describe every detail of a character getting up in the morning on day 1 of your book.

Ari Meermans
04-10-2014, 07:06 PM
As so often happens with often repeated phrases, context can get lost. When Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said, "Murder your darlings," he was referring to the mistaken belief that excessively ornamented (purple) prose is an element of personal style. He was a proponent of clear, concise writing; and his contention was that this affected manner of writing was not style at all. Always use the best phrasing to convey your meaning, but don't get so caught up in using a thesaurus that your prose devolves into affectation.

shadowwalker
04-10-2014, 07:16 PM
I always consider the "short-cut phrasing" as a reminder of the whole piece of advice. So no, I don't have a problem with "Kill your darlings" or "Show don't tell" or any other phrases like that. I also remember that it's advice.

nastyjman
04-10-2014, 07:20 PM
I believe it's more of a guideline rather than a rule. It would help amateur writers to take it as a rule, disciplining themselves not to be overly ornate. And as the writer grows, he is apt to bend that rule and then brake the rule, turning it into a mere guideline, a signpost that was once a towering obelisk.

Also, Stephen King wasn't the first who said "Kill Your Darlings". I just learned this myself today since I believed it was Faulkner who said it first. (http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/10/18/_kill_your_darlings_writing_advice_what_writer_rea lly_said_to_murder_your.html)

Jamesaritchie
04-10-2014, 08:10 PM
We've had any number of threads here concerning bad, hackneyed, meaningless bits of common advice doled out to writers, often by other very successful writers. An entire book could probably be compiled of comments concerning "Show, don't tell," as just one example.

But I'm going to nominate this oft-repeated nugget as one of the dumbest pieces of writer's advice I've ever seen. And, yes, I know that the immortal Stephen King has uttered it, among many others.

I teach composition to intro-level university students. Inevitably, that involves critiquing their writing, and making various comments about grammar, and suggestions for ways of making what they are trying to express more concise, more effective, etc.

But I also make comments about what is done well in their writing, and I try very hard to get them to recognize both the good stuff and the stuff that could stand more work. You need to be able to recognize when you really nail something in a phrase or a sentence, when you get it just the way it needs to be.

"Kill your darlings" is idiotic advice, if your "darling" is exactly what needs to be there, in that place, at that moment in the story. A writer needs to be able to make that judgment, to recognize that "darling," fully as much as being able to recognize the crap that needs to be rewritten, reworked, or even just thrown away.

I hereby declare my intolerance for that hackneyed phrase, and propose that it be banished forthwith from any set of pithy utterances intended to give writer's advice on improving their writing.

caw


Do you really think "show, don't tell" falls in this category? Wow. It's absolutely crucial and wonderful advice, and unless you can find a better way of stating it, it needs to be left alone.

"Kill your darlings" has nothing to do with a phrase that's exactly what needs to be there, in that place, at that moment in the story. You know that. It's a phrase you love that serves no purpose other than being pretty.

Of course a writer needs to be able to make the judgment call, and that's exactly what this phrase helps a writer to do.

And, again, unless you can find a better way of phrasing it, then changing it would be silly.

Torgo
04-10-2014, 08:25 PM
Do you really think "show, don't tell" falls in this category? Wow. It's absolutely crucial and wonderful advice, and unless you can find a better way of stating it, it needs to be left alone.

My problem with 'show, don't tell' is that it's often taken to mean 'never, never, never tell'. So that you get manuscripts in which every facial expression and gesture is painstakingly delineated, in the manner of an audio-described movie, because the writer is too afraid to say "Mrs Briggs was delighted to see them" or the like. Sometimes telling is the right call, and I find the usual formulation of the advice a bit too snappy and absolute.

AHunter3
04-10-2014, 08:42 PM
No matter how many zillions of copies of his zilions of books have been sold, Stephen King is absolutely the last person in any position to tell anyone to "kill your darlings".

Stevie boy gets up to didoes and when in doubt straps on those little darlings every smucking time he turns around.

One of his most annoying darlings is his outrageous crudity thing that he does: he gets enamoured of some paragraph in which the contents of some character's head is suddenly a bit dirtier or coarser, and then it's like a sore tooth that he can't keep his tongue out of, he goes BACK to those bits and elaborates on them getting ever raunchier. Like some character watching another person wipe their nose with the back of their hand while eating and wondering if some of the snot got on the food. Then he'll have his character think back on that later and wonder if the person regularly wiped snot into their food to add a bit of salt flavoring to it. And then later thinking the person is probably active plucking out gooey buggers to garnish their food. And so on, ad nauseum, always returning to the SAME thing and elaborating on it.


Don't get me wrong, I think The Shining is a spectacular work of art and will sit on shelves as a classic work decades and centuries from now.

Siri Kirpal
04-10-2014, 09:42 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Yep. Let's kill THIS darling quote.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Torgo
04-10-2014, 11:47 PM
No matter how many zillions of copies of his zilions of books have been sold, Stephen King is absolutely the last person in any position to tell anyone to "kill your darlings".

Stevie boy gets up to didoes and when in doubt straps on those little darlings every smucking time he turns around.

One of his most annoying darlings is his outrageous crudity thing that he does:

I don't know if this is quite the same thing we are talking about, and in any case I'd prefer we didn't start knocking individual writers, however successful?

NeuroFizz
04-11-2014, 12:06 AM
The advice depends on one's personal definition or personal understanding of what constitutes a "darling." To me, it is writing that serves the writer instead of serving the story. New writers tend to be heavy on these darlings in that they can tend to be overly "literary" and descriptive to the point the writer is enthralled with the clever or rhythmic wording more than in how that wording serves the pace, flow, continuity, and forward movement of the scene or story. If the writing is there to make the writer look cool or "writerly," rather than to best serve the story, then it is a darling (because this is the kind of writing to which a new or developing writer* may be overly attached because of its perceived artistic or intellectual value). In my opinion, those darlings must NOT be killed--they must be annihilated, vaporized, or otherwise banished from one's writing toolbox.

In my mind, "darling" implies an emotional attachment to the writing, in particular an attachment that overrides the importance of that writing's primary service to the story. Instead, its primary service is to the writer's ego.

*this can be an affliction of experienced writers as well.


Note added in edit: The above is why I sometimes cringe at posts in the "favorite lines you've written" type of threads.

bearilou
04-11-2014, 12:14 AM
And because of this propensity for these soundbite quotes to be taken out of context or simply not having any context is why I would like to see a move away from being pithy and witty and tossing out these cute little things that mean very little unless expanded on and to see advice given on a more useful level.

I know that after a while people get tired of repeating themselves and so it's tempting to fall back on these kinds of things, but then we end up with someone new coming in, hearing it, and with no context, assuming it's meant literally instead of with a bit of common sense.

ElaineA
04-11-2014, 02:06 AM
I hereby declare my intolerance for that hackneyed phrase, and propose that it be banished forthwith from any set of pithy utterances intended to give writer's advice on improving their writing.

caw

*imagines blacbird in a wig and robe in the House of Lords*

HEAR HEAR!

Hanson
04-11-2014, 02:25 AM
This is my favourite (http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2013win.html) piece of writing and I aint changing a word!

"She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination."

AHunter3
04-11-2014, 03:16 AM
I don't know if this is quite the same thing we are talking about, and in any case I'd prefer we didn't start knocking individual writers, however successful?

That's probably a good suggestion. You're right.

blacbird
04-11-2014, 05:15 AM
Do you really think "show, don't tell" falls in this category? Wow. It's absolutely crucial and wonderful advice, and unless you can find a better way of stating it, it needs to be left alone.

Of course not. What I was trying to convey is that we have a lot of debate about this phrase here, much of it indicating clearly that the dictum has been horribly misconstrued by many aspiring writers. It gets misunderstood because it is deceptively short, lacking in nuance and has become more of a slogan than a piece of advice.

caw

phantasy
04-11-2014, 06:05 AM
This is my favourite (http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2013win.html) piece of writing and I aint changing a word!

"She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination."

Lol, holy crap. My mind just went '.......................'
It flat-lined.

shadowwalker
04-11-2014, 08:28 AM
I know that after a while people get tired of repeating themselves and so it's tempting to fall back on these kinds of things, but then we end up with someone new coming in, hearing it, and with no context, assuming it's meant literally instead of with a bit of common sense.

I remember the first time I heard it. I had no idea what it meant, so - I asked! Yes, one should explain when using these phrases, but that doesn't always happen and it doesn't remove the responsibility from the new folks to ask when they don't understand something. (A good thing to learn in all matters of life, frankly.)

RightHoJeeves
04-11-2014, 09:28 AM
And because of this propensity for these soundbite quotes to be taken out of context or simply not having any context is why I would like to see a move away from being pithy and witty and tossing out these cute little things that mean very little unless expanded on and to see advice given on a more useful level.

I know that after a while people get tired of repeating themselves and so it's tempting to fall back on these kinds of things, but then we end up with someone new coming in, hearing it, and with no context, assuming it's meant literally instead of with a bit of common sense.

Do any writers really just listen to soundbites and not investigate further? I don't teach people, so I wouldn't know, but surely no one looks at something like 'kill your darlings' and starts removing all the darlings, even if they work. I would think 99% of people would try to actually understand what it really means.

NRoach
04-11-2014, 09:56 AM
Do any writers really just listen to soundbites and not investigate further? I don't teach people, so I wouldn't know, but surely no one looks at something like 'kill your darlings' and starts removing all the darlings, even if they work. I would think 99% of people would try to actually understand what it really means.

Yes, writers do.

shadowwalker
04-11-2014, 10:52 AM
Yes, writers do.

Chalk it up to another of life's lessons then. If people base decisions on 'soundbites', whose fault is that? As I said, these things should be explained when they're stated - but it doesn't mean we should have to spoonfeed new writers.

blacbird
04-11-2014, 11:28 AM
Do any writers really just listen to soundbites and not investigate further?

We have at least eleventy-twelve threads here suggesting strongly that a lot of new aspiring writers do exactly that. Or at least that their first avenue of investigation is to ask about such things here. Which ain't such a bad idea.

caw

bearilou
04-11-2014, 04:55 PM
Chalk it up to another of life's lessons then. If people base decisions on 'soundbites', whose fault is that? As I said, these things should be explained when they're stated - but it doesn't mean we should have to spoonfeed new writers.

Wow. Okay. You know, I wasn't talking about bubble wrapping new writers until they get their toddler feet under them.

I was suggesting that maybe instead of tossing off a pithy 'KILL YOUR DARLINGS, DARLING' when they ask a question to maybe try to say something more to them with a little substance.

There's no middle ground? Either you molly-coddle them or just toss them to the wolves and let them figure it out on their own and ask questions that they may not at that point know they even need to ask?


We have at least eleventy-twelve threads here suggesting strongly that a lot of new aspiring writers do exactly that. Or at least that their first avenue of investigation is to ask about such things here. Which ain't such a bad idea.

caw

Exactly. And for the most part, AWers don't mind explaining that the soundbites are just that, and there are reasons behind them (and then explain it as they see it). There are a lot of blogs out there that will list their Top Five Ways To Get Rejected (And How To Avoid It) and offer little in the way of real advice.* So they sound solid but really are useless.

* which will send me off on a tear about internet marketing and blogging and providing 'content that readers care about' and how crap like that looks good on the surface but are just fluff and pretty much useless. that's for another discussion

shadowwalker
04-11-2014, 05:51 PM
There's no middle ground? Either you molly-coddle them or just toss them to the wolves and let them figure it out on their own and ask questions that they may not at that point know they even need to ask?

If you'll read my original comments, I said that those phrases should be explained if used - but if they aren't, then the responsibility falls on the new writer to ask for one.

And why wouldn't they know to ask? "Kill your darlings" - does that sound remotely self-explanatory? It didn't to me the first time I heard it. I had no idea what they meant by "darlings" - phrases? Characters? Hell, ideas? So I asked, just like I do with anything I don't understand (actually, I also - gasp - looked it up).

bearilou
04-11-2014, 06:18 PM
If you'll read my original comments, I said that those phrases should be explained if used - but if they aren't, then the responsibility falls on the new writer to ask for one.

And why wouldn't they know to ask? "Kill your darlings" - does that sound remotely self-explanatory? It didn't to me the first time I heard it. I had no idea what they meant by "darlings" - phrases? Characters? Hell, ideas? So I asked, just like I do with anything I don't understand (actually, I also - gasp - looked it up).

*sheepish* I came off extraordinarily bitchy. I'm sorry.

But I guess I'm referring to more broad issues than just Kill your darlings. As many things as I've seen come through the Basic Questions forums that new writers cling to because so-and-so said it and what do they mean?

So sure, they're asking for clarification and that's great. It's not the sum total of the issue I'm addressing. Many times in forums I've seen the same platitudes and pithy responses being thrown at them as if they should already know and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming when they get hit in the face with the harshness of 'duh, you should know this, you're a writer!' attitudes that sometimes comes across.

Thankfully, many responders here do take the time to explain, which is great. But AW is not the only place where these discussions happen and I was addressing overall. So many people will pop these things out to sound learned and knowledgeable and it can be intimidating to someone new.

As for doing their research, sure they could go online and look it up but then that takes me to my other pet peeve that ties in closely with this issue and that is many blogs out there are just as highlevel in their discussion that explains nothing but types out a whole lot of words to make it sound like they know more than they do. There's a lot of information out there that isn't information at all. But it looks like it and for someone trying to find out what they don't know...it's not all that cut and dried.

And sometimes, maybe, the new writer just wants someone to talk to who isn't talking at them. I can understand that impulse and on more than one occasion I've been faced with that very thing (sometimes even here at AW). I wanted to discuss something and was hit in the face repeatedly with the very platitudes that sound good on the surface but without further discussion are meaningless just to shut me down. They sounded like they answered my questions but didn't. If I wanted to continue the conversation, I risked having to look foolish and ask for clarification when it appeared that everyone else knew but me. When you're new somewhere...well, sometimes it's not worth the effort.

Thus a conversation gets shut down, myths perpetuate.

:Shrug:

quicklime
04-11-2014, 07:40 PM
Chalk it up to another of life's lessons then. If people base decisions on 'soundbites', whose fault is that? As I said, these things should be explained when they're stated - but it doesn't mean we should have to spoonfeed new writers.

I'm with this...."kill your darlings" is, I think, sound advice. But I took it as "you need to be willing to cut shit that doesn't work, however attached you are," not "If you like it, it should automatically go."

Blac is, as a teacher, in a very different spot, and I can understand the frustration, but at least some of that I believe falls on the listener.....the advice as I have always understood it is pretty sound, imho. And yeah...I you really WANT to write, the onus is on you to stretch and develop a bit....

Little Ming
04-12-2014, 12:06 AM
I'm with shadowwalker and the snake on this one. And to provide some more context: generally when I use these pithy, witty phrases, such as kill your darlings, it's not because I'm trying to be pithy and witty; it's because there's a bigger conversation going on. <--See I didn't explain it there! :tongue But I would hope that wayward readers of this forum didn't just take that to mean delete every line I *really* like. If you read something you don't understand, ask. Or better yet read around the forums a bit. I read AW for about a year before I even signed up, and while I still have the occasional stumble it helped. A lot.

Another phrase I use a lot is "show, don't tell," or some variation thereof. I use it most in critiques. Again, it's not because I'm trying to be witty or pithy; it's because I just spent 20-30 minutes reading the piece and maybe another 10-15 trying to figure out why it didn't work. (Yes, it does take that long, which is why I've backed away from SYW recently.) It's time consuming, and the shorthanded phrases like "show, don't tell," "infodump," "as you know Bob," etc, make things easier for the critiquers. But if someone takes "show, don't tell" to mean "always show, never tell," and that's my fault... I don't know what to say. I'm already critiquing less, and I know other critters cycle through SYW too, some because it does become too stressful/time consuming. If we have to explain every "rule" or shorthanded phrase every time... I think SYW is going to become very quiet. :(

tl;dr: I'm not going to spoon-feed new writers; the onus is on them. Read around. If you don't understand, ask. But read around first.

Randy Lee
04-12-2014, 01:19 AM
Yes, writers do.

I know a writer that seemingly devotes his life to "show, don't tell." I lament the resulting waste of his potential.

Phaeal
04-12-2014, 01:22 AM
It's much more fun to kill other peoples' darlings, aka literary criticism.

Chrissy
04-14-2014, 04:24 AM
I think the key to the "Kill Your Darlings" is to know what a "darling" is.

For me, it's not the parts of my writing that I like or am even especially proud of. My "darlings" are the ones I have to defend, even in the face of sound critique, because... look at my wit! Look at my poetry! Look at my brilliant use of language!

That's how my view my darlings. Things that I become irrationally attached to, because me me me looky looky.

The maturity for me is in knowing the value is in ability to write the story, not the ability to write a catchy, witty, pretty... something.

JustSarah
04-14-2014, 05:53 AM
To explain my hesitance in accepting "kill you darlings", is you might have that one bit that was inspired by a dream. And so that whole story may be a darling? So kill the whole short story?

Though I guess if your darling is only the first chapter.

I recently had to kill a darling chapter because it was inconsistent with the mood of the rest of the piece. Though thankfully that ended up being like chapter 1.

Wilde_at_heart
04-14-2014, 04:54 PM
I'm with this...."kill your darlings" is, I think, sound advice. But I took it as "you need to be willing to cut shit that doesn't work, however attached you are," not "If you like it, it should automatically go."


That's always how I've interpreted it. I found the more I wrote, the fewer 'darlings' I had anyway.

However with articles like this, I can understand the confusion:

http://litreactor.com/columns/the-ten-worst-pieces-of-writing-advice-you-will-ever-hear-and-probably-already-have


8. Kill your darlings
If you like a sentence too much, cut it. This is good advice for writers who get attached to that clever turn of phrase that has nothing to do with the story—that amazing sentence that hijacks the whole scene—the plot development that just blows their minds. Which is to say, writer babies.

.....

If you, as a grown up, still love some crazy turn of phrase or sentence or plot development that’s wildly inappropriate for the story, maybe it’s the story that needs help. If that thing is your darling, I say, date it. Expand on that voice or development. Build a story around it. Chances are, it’s at least as interesting as the one you set out to write.

.... though I do agree with the bit I underlined - as a new writer, it might not be the 'darling' that is the problem but the rest.

Gringa
04-14-2014, 07:34 PM
as a new writer, it might not be the 'darling' that is the problem but the rest.

From your linked quote: If that thing is your darling, I say, date it. Expand on that voice or development. Build a story around it. Chances are, it’s at least as interesting as the one you set out to write.

Expand the "darling." Thanks. This made my day.

GregM
04-18-2014, 02:44 AM
To explain my hesitance in accepting "kill you darlings", is you might have that one bit that was inspired by a dream. And so that whole story may be a darling? So kill the whole short story?

Though I guess if your darling is only the first chapter.

I recently had to kill a darling chapter because it was inconsistent with the mood of the rest of the piece. Though thankfully that ended up being like chapter 1.

I say date your darlings! Explore, and see where they take you. Sometimes it's far more interesting than what you had outlined in the first place, and a path the character or world is begging you to take.

Other times I've found her to be a dirty little succubus, feeding on my pretentious words.

jrowland
04-18-2014, 04:20 AM
I agree that sometimes it's hard to know what you need to cut in your writing, especially if you're the only one who has read your work. I came across this article today about the importance of hearing your work read out loud. I thought it might be helpful--what better way to know what to cut and what needs to be cut than to hear it in a voice that's not yours? Plus, when a larger group of people is reading it all at once, you have the added benefit of observing multiple people's reactions to your characters at once. It can be very enlightening! Maybe that character you adore isn't a crowd pleaser at all.

Check it out: http://www.scriptmag.com/features/improvising-screenplays-getting-screenplay-feet-value-live-readings

Cosy_Mimi
04-18-2014, 01:14 PM
I don't agree with paying such serious attention to random quotes. Sure, acknowledge and understand it but to be a good individual writer surely you would be aware of the core point of what that means anyway. It comes naturally after a time to be able to look at your writing with some objectivity and cut the sentences/paragraphs which, despite adoring, perhaps don't serve a higher purpose.

I don't like the term 'your darlings' because surely the whole work should be your darling. The way some people talk about writing is that its a clinical process, a streamlined service for others when in fact I see it as the opposite - a passionate pursuit of expression. If I paid serious attention to this, It would really limit my creative flow. Writing is sensual, we should all make love with our words.

NRoach
04-18-2014, 01:27 PM
I can't be the only person to find irony in the fact that Stephen King, a writer, ostensibly a communicator, has produced something so vague.

"[Don't hesitate to] kill your darlings" would have saved terabytes of server space across the world.

Helix
04-18-2014, 01:43 PM
I can't be the only person to find irony in the fact that Stephen King, a writer, ostensibly a communicator, has produced something so vague.

"[Don't hesitate to] kill your darlings" would have saved terabytes of server space across the world.


Why is King copping flak for this?

Layla Nahar
04-18-2014, 04:09 PM
Yes, writers do.

I disagree. I think someone with the aesthetic common sense to produce a functioning piece of writing examines such statements to understand what they really mean. Those who adopt them wholesale are those who fail to understand what one does as a writer. Call me elitist if you like.


Why is King copping flak for this?

Right? Didn't Johnson (that's who it was, right?) say this about 300 years ago? 'When you find something you think is particularly fine, strike it out' -


Lol, holy crap. My mind just went '.......................'
It flat-lined.
I know

quicklime
04-19-2014, 03:03 AM
I don't like the term 'your darlings' because surely the whole work should be your darling. The way some people talk about writing is that its a clinical process, a streamlined service for others when in fact I see it as the opposite - a passionate pursuit of expression. If I paid serious attention to this, It would really limit my creative flow. Writing is sensual, we should all make love with our words.

bear in mind that to be fair, a good many writers do not romanticize what they do in this manner.

in fact if I ever said something like "make love with my words" it has only been facetiously.


your mileage may, and should, vary, but it is a large world out there. perhaps the pragmatism above is part of why I have so little issue with the phrase in question.

Medievalist
04-19-2014, 03:28 AM
I'd like to point out that all too often the phrase is taken out of context.

First, the original phrase was "murder your darlings." You can read about it here (http://www.lisaspangenberg.com/writing/murder-your-darlings/).

This is my second-most-often plagiarized blog post.

I'm going to note that a useful corollary to "Murder your darlings" is quite often Teresa Nielsen Hayden's "Style is what you can't help doing."

JustSarah
04-19-2014, 03:46 AM
So most of the time they are accusing the author of ego stroking? Or is the context different?

Barbara R.
04-19-2014, 03:51 AM
We've had any number of threads here concerning bad, hackneyed, meaningless bits of common advice doled out to writers, often by other very successful writers. An entire book could probably be compiled of comments concerning "Show, don't tell," as just one example.
caw

I'd just like to point out that the advice to "Kill your darlings" refers to writing only.

Medievalist
04-19-2014, 04:12 AM
So most of the time they are accusing the author of ego stroking? Or is the context different?

I have no idea what other writers purport to mean by "kill/murder your darlings."

I do know that the earliest attested use of it was by Quiller-Couch and he was objecting to style-as-display or egotistical ornament or as he put it:


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.

That is, he is objecting to text that serves only as ornament to a writer's ego, to show how very clever the writer is.

It is not, in other words, advice to kill every thing you love in a text, just those bits that have no other purpose in a text than satisfying the author's artistic ego.

It doesn't mean you can't have clever or witty characters, for instance.

Helix
04-19-2014, 04:18 AM
I'd just like to point out that the advice to "Kill your darlings" refers to writing only.

Now you tell me.

Mr. Breadcrumb
04-19-2014, 09:24 AM
Yeah, this is one I don't have much of a problem with, and I'm not one for prescriptive nuggets in general.

Partly because it's so hard to see how it could be taken wrong as so many seem to. I mean, you'll end up in a logic spiral if you really believe the advice is to remove anything you like. After all, if you should not like anything you like then do you still like the things you like because you don't like them? (Also, never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.)

Practicality is the key, here. It's possible for a word or a sentence or a chapter to be a beautiful piece of art in its own right. The best thing you've ever made. But if it doesn't make the whole work of which it's supposed to be a part better, it doesn't matter how beautiful it is or how much work you put into it. No sentence, no matter how wonderful, will save a bad book.

If you find yourself trying to solve a problem and your argument against a solution is that it removes a little line you're really fond of, don't you kind of know what the right answer is already?

It's a form of the sunk cost fallacy. Nothing is off the table if cutting it makes the whole better.

If removing it makes the whole worse, then you have a concrete reason for keeping it and it isn't merely a darling, it's pulling it's weight as a member of the team.