Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Pleasure Of Killing Your Darlings

No one is sure what writer first said it. I encountered it when I read Stephen Kings book "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft". (BTW this is my favorite book on writing.)

SK said: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings.”

What does it mean? It means to get rid of words, lines or phrases, sentences, unnecessary plotlines or characters that are mucking up your story.

The problem is - sometimes what you need to get rid of, is precious to you - clever - a turn of phrase you are proud of. And you created it.

I'll give you an example. I was cutting the word count on a short story. I went through it several times. Every time when I got to the section with the dreadlock guy I thought - can't cut him, he is essential to the story. About go through number fifteen I realized - he is not essential to the story. He actually isn't even part of the story. He is just a dreadlock guy who bangs on her window to wake her up so she doesn't miss the music. And I can cut fifty words or more if I have her wake up to an alarm she set on her phone instead.

I didn't want to do it because I thought it was clever on my part to put him there. It made the scene more authentic. He and the scene could have happened in real life in that setting. But he wasn't moving my story along so: 

gun to head, dreadlock guy gone.

The thing is - I never realized what fun that could be.

I decided to turn an abandoned novel start into a short story. I wanted to submit it to a contest that only allowed 8000 words or less. The novel had 10300 words and no finish. 

First I finished it. That took it up to 10700 words. I had to take out 2701 words. I went through it several times and cut a bunch out but not enough.

Then I decided to go through it using the Find feature on Word. I figured out so many words that I use too often that can usually be cut out without changing anything. In fact my story is better without them.

In alphabetical order:
about, begin, but, can, even, first, head, had, hand, just, (a) little, ly*, maybe, (for a few) minutes, pull, push, right (now), so(far), start, still, turn

*ly is not a word but remember all those admonishments not to use ly words. When I searched I had too many.

Anywho - once I got through all of that I was down to 7957 words. All good words. My story was tight. And ready to submit. So I did.


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