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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | How to Survive Killing Your Darlings

How to Survive Killing Your Darlings

Just so you know, I wanted to find a picture
of Brutus killing Caesar, as that seemed more
appropriate, but I couldn’t find a good one.

We all have to do it at some point. Maybe it’s a realization you’ve come to on your own, or something your critique partners have pointed out. Sometimes it comes as part of revisions from an industry professional, such as an agent or an editor.

It’s a favorite scene – plot thread – line of dialogue – maybe even a character. But it’s got to go for the good of the story. What do you do?
The only way to get over killing your darlings is to write new darlings. Don’t strip away elements and leave your manuscript ravished and scarred. Even if the whole purpose of cutting is to reduce word count, you still have to patch the hole. And it doesn’t have to be an ugly patch — the kind where you slather in goop, let it dry, sand it, and paint over it.
Make it beautiful. Make it witty. Re-envision that scene or write a better line of dialogue. If you have to cut a character, take a tiny shred from that person and implant it into somebody else. Write something you love more than the thing you cut.
Earlier this week, I turned in what had to be my eighth draft of THE EIGHTH DAY. (Which is kind of fitting.) In every successive draft, I know I cut something I loved, something it was painful to let go of.
Darned if I can remember what they all were, because I love each new version better.
Maybe we need to stop talking about “killing our darlings” and refer to it as “paring back unnecessary branches and encouraging the growth of award-winning blooms.”
Now, if only I can remember that as I face some necessary bloodshed (and rebuilding) in my draft of the second book of the series …

15 Responses to How to Survive Killing Your Darlings

  1. Impressed you’re blogging with your book release. So true about killing your darlings. It took me a long time to be willing to cut them, but I’ve finally gotten over it and like you, like my manuscripts better for it.

    Hope your latest revisions for your new book are the end of your major revisions.

  2. I would imagine this is very hard, as writers probably get very attached to our characters…much more so than we do as readers and it’s even hard for us!

  3. I seriously think you are a robot or have some sort of superpower. I don’t know how you do everything. Kudos.
    This is so hard for me to cut things, but it is a part of the process and will result in a better story. I like your term for it.
    Hope your revisions finish smoothly.

  4. SA Larsenッ says:

    Yup. Get right back on that horse…. Why does it feel like the horse moves sometimes, though?

  5. I don’t find it too hard to cut my darlings. But that’s because, like you pointed out, Dianne, I see how much stronger things are when I do it. Killing the darlings is not always easy, especially when it’s not necessarily deleting it, but rather rewriting it to the opposite of what you had before.

  6. mshatch says:

    It IS hard to cut scenes and/or characters! I never cut them entirely, instead I have a little folder I call ‘extra’ that has anything I loved from a particular tale. Sometimes I’ve actually needed some of what I cut back but most times the story is better for it. And I know how hard this process has been for you but boy, The Eighth Day is going to be so good…:)

    Can’t they make it come out any sooner?

  7. Mama J says:

    I’ve just done this after getting feedback from an agent who didn’t like a particular plot point. I was quite indignant at first and couldn’t possibly change it.

    But I have changed it and I think (hope) it’s improved the book.

  8. I keep a scrap file for each book so that it doesn’t feel like I’m killing them, just removing them to a scrapbook where I can visit them. They’re almost never as good as I thought they were.

  9. Lexa Cain says:

    This is a brilliant piece of advice. I’m terrified of editorial notes. I’m imagining having to cut the world-building that makes my ms layered and deep. But waiting for the “bad” news is a little easier if I know that you’ve been through it and survived! 🙂

  10. Very sound advice, Dianne.

    I know I have stripped my first novel to near death. The second was minimal to the point of ridiculous, so there I had added.

    It’s on BIG puzzle that we get to put together anyway we like. How fun is this?!

  11. Linda G. says:

    “paring back unnecessary branches and encouraging the growth of award-winning blooms.”

    I LOVE that! Very timely for me, too. Thank you. 🙂

  12. I’m glad you are enjoying your revisions. 🙂

    I can’t wait for my copy of Caged Grave to arrive!

  13. DL Hammons says:

    Yep…been there, done that. You trick yourself a little by just moving it into this other file, saying that its not really gone and come back if need be, but deep down you know its really gone for good. Ouch! 🙂

  14. I’ve just had to get rid of a scene – it added nothing to the story, I thought it did, but it was just distracting and people questioned why it was there. So… gone! I might steal a couple of phrases for other parts of the story though 🙂

  15. Your description tops the usual “killing your darlings” one. If we want prize-winning flowers, we have to give them room to breathe, and be judicious with the fertilizer.