By Thonie Hevron
“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
― William Faulkner
My reason choosing this topic is embarrassing. When planning my last novel, With Malice Aforethought, I had an idea. An outline followed, then the beginnings of a story. I began work. Some months later and about 30K words into Malice, I happened to re-establish contact with a man I worked with many decades ago at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Mike Brown was generally accepted to be one of the most competent, sensible and well-liked deputies around. When he retired, he was a Captain, and a 16-year veteran of Violent Crimes Investigations unit. He’d worked both positions my male protagonist held in the story. I reached out to Mike and asked him to read my outline.
His answer was quick: this scenario couldn’t happen.
Oh no! What was I going to do with the beautiful words I wrote? Thirty thousand words—a third of the book! It was with great anguish, I pressed the “delete” button. Mike was very generous with his time and with further discussion, I came up with a reasonable scenario that Mike said was credible. This newer version was not only more accurate, but it was better. It fit into my character needs better, was more exciting and allowed more plot flexibility.
In short, killing my darlings made for a better story.
My sacrifice on the altar of fiction authenticity was worth it.
When I announced this topic, my idea was to discuss how to cut words—words being the author’s darlings. But in receiving early posts and feedback from others, I’ve found some authors consider this phrase to mean actual characters. I believe there is no wrong answer and I’m thrilled to read others take on the subject. For every author, cutting their precious words is difficult. I can’t tell you yet what works for me, because with four books under my belt, it seems to change all the time. I do have a file of deleted scenes I keep so I don’t feel like I’ve wadded up the words for the waste basket. I’ll leave expert advice to three authors who present well thought out suggestions. They are below if you’d like to read further.Kristen Keiffer writes in Well-Storied, September 10, 2015 “8 Things to Cut When You Kill Your Darlings.” Her post is short, cogent and efficient. If you’re an author editing your manuscript, check this article out. “What it Means to Kill Your Darlings” on WritersLife.org (2016) offers more ideas by Bethany Cadman. Ruthanne Reid’s Thewritepractice.com offers more suggestions how to recover from your assassination in her 2015 offering: “How to Kill Your Darlings and Survive the Process.”
I’m posting on Saturday, the first of September because I have a full house of authors this month who want to talk about murdering their own syllables. On September 7th, Judy Alter has insight into killing off characters versus your own words. Lesley Diehl decided to interpret “Killing Your Darlings” as killing off characters, in her case, sometimes a really bad guy is too wonderful, too aggravating, too colorful to kill off even though he might deserve it! Her post appears on the 14th, Marilyn Meredith on September 21 talks about characters she doesn’t want to kill off, and Patricia Guthrie winds up the month on the 28th.