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Kill Your Darlings

This title is not as ominous it may seem. I’m borrowing an expression from the master of  horror, *Stephen King. He borrowed it from the author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who termed it, “Murder your darlings!”

These expressions refer to the writers’ task of eliminating the following; too many adjectives and adverbs, characters who don’t really fit into the story or move the action, words or expressions that are not necessary or overused. It may include worn out cliches, a preponderance of description, and run on dialogue that needs to be streamlined. It’s challenging, especially when you develop a love for a word or turn of phrase that just speaks to you!

I had an idea a couple of years ago for a tale about philanthropy gone bad. I wanted to make the story intergenerational, so I threw in a couple of boys, a young adult couple, a pair of thirty somethings, and three boomer gals. A tag or log line, which is one sentence (usually) that summarizes the story, would be; “When the grown kids are away, their moms become a magnet for chaos in this crazy comedy.”

Six months later when I was half way along, I shared some of this story with a writer friend. I was having a good time with my characters and their situations, and was hoping he would be as taken with it as I was. He liked the chapter development but didn’t think the young boys were necessary. He felt the story would flow along quite nicely without them. I was floored by his suggestion. Those kids were in two chapters! Five thousand precious words. I defended my piece to him, trying to explain how essential their roles were. His advice to me? Think about it for a few days.

I didn’t review it or go near it for the first day. Then started to wonder if I could write around the boys and see how that went. The second day I challenged myself and did just that. I cut them out of my budding novel, then re read what I had. My friend did see something I hadn’t seen. The action in the book would still keep rolling without them.Though I like writing about kids and their coming of age, this wasn’t the place for it.

 Did I kill my darlings? I like to think I gave them a nap. Who knows? In the future I may wake them and give them a new home.


*On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Copyright 2000 by Stephen King


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