On killing your darlings

By February 4, 2015Writing about Writing

Attributed to the likes of literary figures from William Faulkner to Allen Ginsberg to Stephen King, the phrase “kill your darlings,” is repeated to amateurs and veteran writers alike, popping up in various fields of writing and film,  to remind scribes to cut to the chase.

As writers, we have an obligation to our readers to cut out the most self-indulgent lines from our prose or verse. Do you really need that metaphor about how the smoke lingered in the air? Does chess need to be featured that heavily in your story? The answers to both are probably not. Indulging when writing can bore the reader, preventing them from envisioning or connecting to the work (See: Christopher Paolini and the bluest blue stone that ever blue’d).

The issue of cutting sybaritic writing carries over to academic writing and appointments here at the Writing Center; when writing papers I find myself using large words in place of smaller alternatives (see: fifth word of this paragraph) because it makes me feel smarter and sound cooler. Cutting frivolous sentences, or condensing the ideas in them, in other people’s writing has helped me in my own. Asking for a writer to show me, not tell me has worked in helping writers craft a background or explain their points more thoroughly, through examples or other means. Reading work out loud, a standard practice at the UCWbL, reveals sentences that get too carried away. This works the same for academic writing; . Additionally, having someone else read over my work helps point out the moments where I get a bit carried away.

In many instances the best writing is that which mixes the two ideas; brevity is key, but it is punctuated by metaphors that continue to make the reader think — like this guy, but in a slightly more serious sense. Killing our darlings, whether fictional or academic should, in the end, make the writing more clear for the reader and give them something to think about once they are done.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Michele L. says:

    I really enjoyed your post, Rachel. I think simplicity is something a lot of writers struggle with but I definitely agree that it makes writing clearer and more impactful. I especially appreciated how you call yourself out (generally and specifically in the third paragraph), showing that writers of all levels should keep this in mind, as you say in the beginning. And the twitter page was great.