Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Choosing Between Your Darlings

It’s been said that, to be successful, a writer has to learn to kill his darlings. Darlings, if you haven’t heard, are those sentences, paragraphs, scenes, or chapters you love as a writer, but which don’t fit into your story. Maybe they slow the pacing, or confuse the reader, or perhaps they’re just unnecessary. Whatever the reason, no matter how much you love the beauty or cleverness of your words, you have to get rid of them for the sake of your story.  Even if it hurts.

I’ve had to do this myself. A lot. (sniff) I’m so much better at coming up with ideas than I am at converting them into words, so I generally have way more ideas than I can wedge into a scene. When I’m writing the first draft, I’ll jot down every idea that comes to me, even if they’re contradictory, figuring I can always decide which ideas to keep once I know the direction the scene is headed. This means a significant portion of my editing process involves deciding what stays and what goes. And when I decide what goes, I often appease myself by moving the passages to another computer file with the promise I’ll use them one day in the future.

But sometimes, this pile of ideas coalesces into two distinct camps, two different ways I can accomplish the same scene. And instead of buckling down and deciding which route I should take, I waffle about and try to find a way to fit both concepts into the scene. Occasionally it works, but usually all I get is a mess that brings the writing to a screeching halt for days, sometimes weeks. (Yeah, I can be stubborn) Eventually, I build up the courage to pull the plug on one of them and get on with it, but it's hard. Once my ideas have been transferred to the page, having to give one of them up is like having to choose which child is my favorite.

But my goal for the rest of the year is to write faster, so I’ve become more ruthless about making these decisions earlier in the process. Can I maintain this ruthlessness for the rest of the year? I’ll let you know in about six months.

 Do you have any special rituals to make you feel better when you get rid of your darlings?


  1. So you have scenes where characters both live and die? Which to choose...
    I rarely have to take out a lot. Usually I'll just stare at the passage a moment and then just hit delete. Like ripping off a band aid - just yank and get it done.

  2. I used to put them in a file, so they weren't REALLY gone, but now I've reached a point I don't need that anymore. (I DO have idea files for new stories - just not for deleted darlings.) I guess I've learned to trim my writing down so that I only put what's needed. I find nowadays that I have to add more often than take away.

    One thing that helps with crafting scenes is to jot down things like: Goal, Conflict, Emotional change. I've also seen it written: Goal, conflict and disaster/resolution; Reaction, dilemma and decision (Mine just lumps disaster in with conflict, and lumps the last three into emotional change.)

    Anyhow determining this for each scene might help you decide what to focus on - what should stay and what should go. *shrugs* If you map it out beforehand, it might keep you from writing to much to begin with.

  3. It's making the decision that tends to be the hard part. Once I cut something I rarely miss it. In fact the next draft I probably won't remember why it was so important to me in the first place.


  4. When I put those cut scenes, etc. into a separate file, I find after a while that I don't even need them anymore. So, the process sorts itself out for me. I wouldn't know what to do to make the deciding easier because with the passage of a little time, it's so clear what I cut wasn't necessary.

  5. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  6. I use yWriter for my writing. It has the option to mark chapters and scenes as unused. I've found that feature very useful, since I can split a scene, mark it as unused, and move it to the unused chapter if I want to get it out of my way. I've found myself referring back to unused scenes, stripping out lines or chunks that I liked, and using them somewhere else in the story, with a bit of tweaking to make it fit. In fact, I've done that four times with one scene in my current WIP.

    Best of luck cutting and saving!

  7. I put my abandoned parts in another file too. Sometimes I end up using the idea somewhere else but rarely the text, so I might as well just delete that. And then Loni says she uses yWriter, a free program I've had on my laptop for ages and never used. I wanted to try it to have it read to me. That might make me delete even more garbage.