When to Murder or Marry Your Darlings
You’ll find no relationship advice here. You might, however, find hope.
Most writers are not only familiar with William Faulkner’s blood-curdling wisdom, “Kill your darlings,” they’re haunted by it to the point that they take a carving knife to their laptops in the editing stages of a manuscript. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch beat Faulkner to the punch, however, and is the lesser-known genetic father of the original quote:
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscripts to the press. Murder your darlings.”
When Your Darlings are Dull
So, that lyrical paragraph that flows like winter-fresh water down spring-green hills, admittedly ad nauseum? Cut it. The sentence that, while choppy, is so delightfully tongue-in-cheek you could choke? Give it up. And that character who’s so saccharine and giggly that you feel really bad about sending her to the chopping block? Well, that’s not exactly what Quiller-Couch or Faulkner meant, but go ahead and bring the axe down on that one, too. Less is more, after all.
That’s the theory, anyway.
When Your Darlings are Darling
We can’t all of us be Charles Dickenses or Tolkiens and write entire pages of descriptions without anything happening and without losing readers. Had Quiller-Couch met with either of these beloved authors, those bits would probably have been cut. Can you imagine, though, a 500-page Lord of the Rings novel?
Sometimes, your darlings are there because you love them for reasons no one else will and you’re blinded by your own affection to know better. Other times, you love your darlings because they’re delicious. Murdering them would be a disservice to your audience. By the time you’re done carving up your edited manuscript, it looks like Mr. Skellington who’s probably still hanging around in your old high school biology classroom.
If you can’t tell already, I love words. Asking me to murder my darlings is like telling me to shave my head. Sometimes, it’s refreshing and I can hide away the loose tendrils in a folder somewhere in My Documents. Other times, I notice that after my darlings are gone the manuscript seems to make less sense. It looks barren and cold, and whatever words I add in to patch up the disjointed parts comes in unevenly and looks, well, fuzzy.
Whenever this seems to be the case, do what everyone else has told you to do: sleep on it. Wake up, shower, take the dog to the dog park, and then return to your laptop with a cup of tea and examine the massacre. Feel free to make the mistake of asking your significant other what he or she thinks. (“Yeah, that looks fine. Was there anything else you wanted, honey?”)
Other times, however, you can tell Quiller-Couch and Faulkner to mind their own business.
Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where she’s been performing a bit of research into the gender wage gap problem. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.