1. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why kill our darlings?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by minstrel, Aug 17, 2016.

    Why kill our darlings?

    First, what do we actually mean by "kill your darlings"?

    Second, what's so bad about our darlings?

    How is it that our stories are better without any of our darlings in them? Surely a story full of darlings is more appealing than one that has no darlings. Say you have a house with a beautiful view. Do you board up the window that shows the view because it's too nice? Does a composer delete the best melodies from his work because they're too pretty? Did Leonardo Da Vinci smear black paint over the Mona Lisa's smile because it was the best part of his painting?

    Why don't we keep our darlings?

    Discuss!
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think the sentiment is meant to carry the idea that often our darlings are only darling to us. We love the clever craftsmanship of that one paragraph or description that we painstakingly worked and reworked, but it doesn't mean it translates to others that way. I think it can also have a specific application to genre lit where we know that - in general - the story trumps any fancy wordsmithery. Usually. Not always, obviously. All kinds of exceptions. But in general... Not every genre lit writer is Delany with his ability to get you to buy into his syntax and delivery. On the whole it usually comes off as more "oh, look at me, the author, no, not the story, ME!!"

    ETA: I would also add that many who have tried Delany think even he is not above the sin of books full of "darlings". Uncounted reviews of his work deplore the work it takes to finish one of his larger, later novels and extol how disappointed they were that works everywhere touted as unique, must-read masterpieces fell woefully short in their eyes.
     
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  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It seems to me that the implication of this is that too many people read badly, or read for the wrong reasons. If the reader's goal is simply to get to the end of the story as quickly as possible, then darlings get in the way. But if a reader wants to inhabit the book for a while, to really enjoy it, then the book should be sumptuous, luxurious, beautiful. Look how we treat our houses. We hang pictures on the walls. We paint, wallpaper, furnish well. Some of us put up chandeliers. We even decorate our Christmas trees. Are these not darlings? Do we not put them into our houses to make them more comfortable and enjoyable? We could kill our darlings and live in cheap motel rooms - they, too, give us a place to sleep and keep the rain off our heads, but do we enjoy the experience? Not usually. We want a beautiful environment. Why do we not want to read a beautiful book?
     
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  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    *shrug* I think there's a strong matter of individual perception and engagement. There may also very well be in play the same kind of ham-fisted rule-giving that gives us "Show, don't tell" and "Everywhere you pause, put a comma." Instead of "Kill your darlings" perhaps the underlying, more nuanced message is "Consider your darlings carefully and weed out the weak". Maybe.

    I know that every time I have given in to my darlings, with little exception they are pointed out as purple proseerie. I don't always agree. I don't have to agree. But when the comments are consistent, it would be foolish to disregard. I don't think every bit of clever phrasing I come up with needs to go, but there's always room for consideration if they are all really as effective as I think they are.
     
  5. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    You're saying that because people read for different reasons from you that they are reading badly, or wrong. There is no such thing as reading for the wrong reasons, in my opinion. It's different for everyone. Sometimes even changing over time, or drifting back and forth.

    I think the phrase "kill your darlings" is quite the same as "show, don't tell." Most experienced writers know that those sayings have unwritten qualifiers. "Know when to show. Know when to tell." "Know when to kill your darlings."

    Using your comparison to a house, there are plenty of people who value function over beauty. It doesn't mean that those people are owning a home in the wrong way does it? They value different things from their residence. The same is true for books. We all want slightly, sometimes wildly, different experiences from books.

    ETA: A lot of the darlings that I've killed are self-indulgent sentences or paragraphs that have no real place in the story I'm telling. I appreciate when those pieces are pointed out. Ultimately, I think the VAST majority of people read for the story. Pretty prose along the way is nice, but when it gets in the way of the story, a lot of readers will be turned off. Most readers are not writers and can't be expected to indulge our writerly whims.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2016
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another formulation of the phrase to consider: Be willing to kill your darlings. Don't do it willy-nilly, certainly don't do it just because they're your darlings, but be willing to do it if you find that they are not contributing to the work as a whole.

    To continue the decorating metaphor - sometimes a piece just doesn't fit a certain room. The piece may be lovely--why, it may be absolutely darling. But if it doesn't contribute to the overall theme, if it overpowers or underpowers or clashes or whatever, then it should go. Decorating (and writing) aren't about the individual pieces; they're about fitting the pieces together into a harmonious whole.
     
  7. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    As above, I think that the "darlings" are the unnecessary ornamentation on a story. I read "Songs of the Dying Earth", which is an anthology tribute to Jack Vance. Going in, I didn't know that Vance's Dying Earth stories were exercises in purple prose, but once I got into it, plain sentences and paragraphs would have stood out. Likewise, if Charles Bukowski had ever stopped and labored over the perfect turn of phrase, it would have killed his flow. Make sure your work is all of a piece, and you'll see the things that don't belong. Tuck them in the attic until it's time for a new story that they'll fit into better.

    edit: and @BayView beat me to it.
     
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  8. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    You may have written a great bit but it doesn't work in the whole. It could be a pacing issue, a context issue, or just be out of place. Be ruthless, and cut out the bits you don't need, no matter how well written.
     
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  9. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    Here we go:

     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This discussion reminds me of the scene in Naked Lunch where the Ginsberg analogue and the Kerouac analogue are discussing opposing views on never editing what originally flows off the pen (Kerouac's POV) vs the idea of ruthlessly revisiting one's work and honing, honing, honing (Ginsberg's POV). This is just before the two of them take their own trip to the Interzone with the Burroughs analogue.
     
  11. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    For the insurance payment :twisted:

    ... In all some seriousness, what @BayView and @Iain Aschendale said: if a line stands out as being more [bland, colorful, running-on, blunt, philosophical, grounded, anything] than the rest of the narrative around it, then you're breaking the reader's flow through the narrative. And always ignore the people who say to "always" do something.
     
  12. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    And some people prefer minimalism.

    I suspect that a Frank Lloyd Wright house wouldn't welcome the Hall of Mirrors from Versailles...

    Some people would look at your room, stuffed with too many pictures, clashing paint and wallpaper, so much furniture (individually gorgeous) that you can barely move around in it, with your chandelier dangling so low you have to get on your knees to change a light-bulb, and say "how absolutely darling. Now, where can we squeeze that Christmas tree in?"
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    "Kill your darlings" is one of those writing "rules" I've always taken to mean: "Don't keep something just because you love it and it's nice. Keep it only if it has a purpose to the story!" The point is, it's like going through boxes of old stuff - you want to keep everything because everything has sentimental value - but that doesn't mean some of it shouldn't go to the trash.

    The thing with writing "rules" is that novices take them as absolutes - and you seem to take it as an absolute too based on your interpretation of it. Nothing is absolute in writing. Note that only some of your stuff should go to the trash, not all. And yes, some prefer their homes furnished with antique and spiraling staircases and chandeliers and they are beautiful things - but if there are too many of them then it actually detracts from their beauty and they become meaningless. But who can say whether the couch should be gold and cream or stretched with silk? Who can say whether it should sit under the window or rather turned to overlook the garden? Who can say whether having two mirrors is too much or too little? Who can say whether this space should be left alone with nothing, so that the divan can shine, or if it should be accompanied by a wooden side table set with glass?

    Really, who can say? These things take discretion - it takes personal good judgement combined with personal taste to determine these things. Too much of anything will ruin whatever you're trying to do/make. So yes, kill your darlings - but not all your darlings. Be smart about which of your darlings you kill, or perhaps some of these darlings could simply be moved or reduced or redressed to fit the house. The trick is figuring out if something really enhances the story - it can be there to simply be pretty, if it actually makes the whole passage pretty rather than just clutter. Not everything has to "move the plot forward", no - but your writing shouldn't be cluttered with so much that moving forward becomes a trudge through the mud. It might be skin-cleansing, beautifying mud some women would pay hundreds and thousands for, but it's still mud you're trying to get out of!

    Or think of the cherry on the cake - that cherry is the darling. But one cherry makes it special, makes it that yummy little extra that really makes the cake. But if the entire cake was filled with cherries and each bite just fills your mouth with yet more cherries and none of the cake, then you're gonna spit the whole thing out and throw it in the bin.
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What film is this? Looks like fun :D
     
  15. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes I feel like I'm swatting off darlings like flies. :bigeek:

    Then I end up with too sparse description, as it turns out. It's hard to find the middle ground, but beta readers have been a big help. Sometimes I recognize a pacing issue or a style related hiccup, but not nearly as often and easily as I'd like.

    Harden your heart and kill 'em without mercy if enough people point out this doesn't work for them OR if you learn from other books, editors' tips, or on this forum that what you're doing might not actually be quite as brilliant as you initially thought. :D

    OR stick to your guns and wait for the "right" reader to find your story and style appealing. There are writers who are considered brilliant by some, atrocious by others. I remember when I applied to uni, we had to read and analyze Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera in the entrance exam. I really liked the book, but many of the students in my class said they had seriously struggled with her style. The same with Toni Morrison's Jazz that we read in high school. A lot of kids found it unbearably flowery, but I really liked it, even though I'm not of the flowery type myself.
     
  16. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    Analyze This, story about a mobster goes who goes to a shrink. I believe it predates The Sopranos.
     
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  17. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    A beta reader can tell you which darlings to kill (in their opinion), but they can't tell you which darlings you shouldn't have killed...
     
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  18. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I have posted an advert looking for betas with unusual mind powers so they'd do that job for me as well, but so far no joy. :bigfrown:
     
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  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    This is how I think the phrase was meant, and should be interpreted, although I think a lot of authors get it wrong (like "show don't tell").

    Of course we shouldn't remove everything we love from our writing. How idiotic would that be? But we have to be willing to let go of something we love when it's detracting from the book.

    For example, in my current WIP there was a joke that I just loved because it was exactly my sense of humour. It related to the heroine's name. There were strong reasons for changing her name (because of its association with another well-known character from fiction) but I loved the joke so much I kept the name in. Then I realised how stupid that was, because her name was the first thing readers find out about her, it pervades the whole novel, and there are much more important factors to consider than a two-line jokey exchange. So I killed the darling.

    I think a lot of anger around "the rules" stems from writers not understanding them, and getting infuriated by their own erroneous conclusions.
     
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  20. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Tenderiser I wanna know what the joke is!!
     
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  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    @Mckk I can't tell you now because it was probably crap and I'll look like a moron for finding it hilarious. :D
     
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  22. theamorset
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    I think in general, 'kill your darlings' is very good advice. In most cases, they are clever and beloved by their author, but not worthwhile.

    These passages are pretty much like spoiled children: Mommy loves them. No one else does.

    And the problem really is that they are too clever.

    I think early on in the author's development, s/he will see darlings everywhere in what s/he writes. The problem is that they really are not that darling. At all.

    And something I have noticed about really great writers: they simply do not have any darlings in their writing. At all. Any. They just don't write that way.
     
  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    So how are you defining "darlings" for this post?
     
  24. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe it was Stephen King who first said this and, even after scouring through the rest of that book, I never did see a satisfying definition of 'darling.'

    You may have to ask him.
     
  25. theamorset
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    theamorset Contributing Member

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    Stephen King did NOT originate that saying. William Faulkner wrote it. And King copied his comment and added a little window dressing to it.

    'Darlings' are parts of one's writing that don't add anything to the story. The author gets attached to them because they seem clever to the author.

    The classic darling is the clever bit of dialog that does nothing for the story, but a darling can run whole paragraphs or more.

    Most developing authors have writings that are chock full of darlings. And typically, they don't spot these things in their own writings, or anyone else's. It's just a part of developing as an author, to be able to spot them in one's own writing.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2016
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