Kill Your Darlings or Don’t

“Kill Your Darlings” is a phrase that you’ll come across if you‘re a writer or artist. Typically referencing the revision step of creative endeavors, it means that creative work can’t be good or powerful or “true art” if you don’t ruthlessly cut the parts of your work that you love.

First of all, you know your writing best, so you do what you think is best for it. Listen to critique partners and editors, but ultimately the decision to cut or not is yours.

Second, I have this crazy notion that love is better for art than homicidal feelings. You can’t slash everything you love about your art and still except it to be good.

Kill your darlings is telling us to not get attached to something that is dragging a story down. If you really like a character or line or metaphor, but it doesn’t work for this story, it would serve your story better to remove it.

The first time someone said it directly about my writing, I was fiercely protective of that “darling”. A mentor character in my short story came across as the antagonist. She was not the antagonist so I said that I would rewrite her character. My critique partners insisted that the character worked well as the antagonist, and that I “kill my darling”, which in this case would be my idea that the character is the mentor. Their reasoning was that this would be better for the story.

My instinct was to keep my character as I had meant to write her, but I thought about why they wanted me to change the character’s personality.  

I realized that I did in fact write the character poorly and they were onto something.  But this character wasn’t a darling that was bringing the story down. She needed to be the mentor to the protagonist for me to tell the story the way I intended.

My critique partners were right about the character as she was presented to them, and I owe them so much for pointing that out. Had I let her become the antagonist, it would have made a really cool story, but not the story I intended to tell. I knew what my story was supposed to be about and I knew the purpose of each character.


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