Wednesday, 13 April 2011

K is for Kill Your Darlings?

This well-known phrase, attributed to various people, basically means that sometimes we hang onto something in the a purely because we like the sound of it. It may be irrelevant, it may be long winded or unbalancing, it may disrupt flow and pace, but because it’s clever, or funny or lyrical, we see it as having earned its place.  I think we all know when we've written a nicely turned out phrase and who wouldn't want to show that off? The problem is it means the rest of the narrative suffers and, difficult as it may be, the sage thing to do is to remove it.

I don't necessarily agree.


I think that writing has become so conformist that people are too ready to take out everything that doesn't serve the narrative, even their own voice. Speed up, get to the point, show it like a movie, raise the stakes, rush to the next plot twist.

I'm not saying dull, meandering, pointless stories should be allowed a free pass. Above all things I think the story needs to be interesting, but I also want a story told in an enjoyable way. Personally, I like those little moments unique to a particular writer even though they may go off at a tangent or are a distraction from the main storyline.

Much like how screenplays became very mechanical at one point, as though every film should aspire to be an 80s action movie where set piece follows set piece and the only dialogue is purely functional with the occasional quip, fiction is taking a similar bums-on-seats approach. Sometimes a meaningless chat about French McDonald's is just as interesting as blowing up Nakatomi Plaza. 

The problem is it's not an easy task to find the right balance and many people make a mess of it and then get defensive. It’s the sort of thing where if you pull it off no one says anything, and if it doesn’t work people start quoting rules at you explaining how you shouldn’t even try. 

Rather than rejecting all attempts to take a more scenic route, I think there should be room for the odd walkabout.

So, in terms of that wonderful line that doesn't belong in the middle of a tense scene, I don't think cutting it out is the only way to go. You can move it to a more appropriate spot. You can integrate it better into the scene. You can rework it so that it has some relevance to the story. You can change the structure so that it doesn't feel like it's crow-barred in. There are a number of ways to make it work with what you're going for without derailing the flow of the story. 

I'm certainly not advocating you leave it as it is and try to get away with “it's literary fiction”  (which is a surprisingly popular defence). If it doesn't work then it doesn't work and it needs to be changed but that doesn't mean you have to throw it out completely.

Here’s an example. A man is attacked in his home and is knocked to the floor. He looks up and notices a flower pot on the window ledge that is of a peculiar shape. Insert profound/witty/mesmerising line about pot. Then back to the fight. 

Completely inappropriate. Has to be cut, right? No — has to be improved. The flower pot is irrelevant to the scene, so make it relevant. Let’s say out hero uses the pot to defend himself. But still, he’s not going to stop to compose an ode to a terracotta pot while he’s about to be killed is he? No, but in order for the pot to not seem like a convenient plant (excuse the pun) that suddenly appears, you would need to have mentioned it before for some seemingly unrelated reason. And that’s when you could have used your killer pot line.

There’s always a way to make the scene work in the way you need it to, and chances are you’ll be able to improve it at the same time.

27 comments:

Josh Hoyt said...

Ooh i like this. Great post on the importance of reworking scenes and to make those nice pieces that we want to include. I agree that it seems things have gotten to the point where we are trying to produce the same thing without individual voice. I like how you talk about the importance of not getting rid of and not keeping it the same but changing it.

Alleged Author said...

I definitely agree that screenplays have become dull and mechanical for some movies. Death, death, death doesn't always equal a great movie. Saw, anyone?

Kimberly said...

Great post. I do that a lot, I'll save out sentences, paragraphs or even whole sections that may work better somewhere else. Sometimes it is hard to get rid of them, though. ;)

McKenzie McCann said...

My friends and I call it 'filler.' We think it's just as important as the more action-heavy bits. A reader needs time to breathe and subconsciously absorb the characters in their average surroundings. Racing action is exciting, but a slow jog can be effective too.

Michelle Teacress said...

In the end, we've got to follow our gut on what to leave vs. what to take, don't we.

You've made some very good points!

Have a nice week. :)

Kari Marie said...

I really like what you've mentioned here. THe idea of enriching your novel in this way adds to character voice as well. The reader can have a moment right along with the character - pulling them farther in. Love it.

The Writing Goddess said...

Dammit, Moody, this is the second time you've scooped me on subject. Well, I'm letting mine stand, to be posted tomorrow AM in the US West coast. And though you've made some good points, I'm still murder-minded (rubbing hands together and chortling with maniacal glee.)

Melissa Kline said...

Mooderino, you're awesome! Just thought I'd tell you that. :) Your comments make me smile.

~Melissa
Reflections on Writing

Anne Gallagher said...

I agree. I never throw anything away. Especially if it's a flower pot. You never know when you can reuse it later. (I got the metaphor.)

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Good on you! It's time we writers fought back against the writing police. Bring back the delightful adjective and, dare I say it, the contemptible adverb!

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I've heard the phrase "Kill your darlings" so often that your point-of-view felt like a breath of fresh air. The difficulty is in finding the right balance between cutting too much and too little, but I guess it's different for every writer. :)

Melissa Dean said...

Great advice! I'm working on this right now!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

This is great advice. Most of the time I need to kill my darlings for a good reason. But this has given some of them hope. :)

Misha said...

Hehehe I love the way you look at it. Have to admit, my mind leapt to killing important characters when I read the title.

Anyway, I agree with you that something doesn't have to be removed as much as moved. I've moved some stuff around in my rewrite, and it makes a significant difference.

That pot plant will add depth to the scene if you introduce it at the right place.

:-)

Lydia K said...

I keep my "darlings" for a while to see if I can find a better home for them in the story somewhere else. Sometimes I'm right for keeping them, sometimes not. But I agree--all rules, including the "kill your darlings" one, are meant to be broken. Judiciously, I might add. :)

Michael Di Gesu said...

Great point. I have, in so many instance written something worthwhile and HATED to delete it. But, like you say find another way and I usually did. I could never DELETE MY "DARLINGS!"

Well done, Mood.

chitrader said...

Thanks for poking holes in that old platitude. I agree there is a time and place for our darlings, but if they are examples of our best writing, why are the experts so eager for us to kill them??

I save mine in a separate file when I realize they don't fit in the particular spot I wrote them, or don't serve to advance the plot. But I always hope I can find a home for them in the orignal story, or use them as inspiration for my next project.

alberta ross said...

adverbs and adjectives Yay - I have always hated the advice to kill the darlings - I dont mind killing the riff raf but a darling is a darling and there should be a home somewhere for them - well done - I'm with you all the way

the writing pad said...

Really interesting post - maybe it is better to rework things, so the darling can genuinely live, rather than removing it to a life support machine, telling yourself you really will use it somewhere, sometime...
Very thought provoking - thanks
Karla

Nofretiri said...

Just discovered your blog ... love the template! :-) Now I'm looking forward to reading your A-Z post!

Greetings from Germany

Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

Elizabeth Mueller said...

I loved your post, it goes supplements mine, too! ;)

♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥

Michael Offutt said...

I like descriptions of the random flower pot.

Gail M Baugniet said...

I agree that sometimes the darlings must go, especially a long-winded narrative. After reading over a manuscript 20 or more times, the "darlings" jump out and bite you! By then, they start sounding old, and it's easier to remove them.

Clarissa Draper said...

I like this. Hard to do but so necessary.

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh, bless you for taking the side of the darlings! What perfectly sensible and wise advice - instead of killing them, make them fit in better. You just brightened my day!

Lindsay said...

Ooh, I like that you mention some things have to be improved instead of cut. :)

Suze said...

Funny. We were out having Thai with a couple tonight that had just spent a month in France for vocational purposes and they mentioned the McDonald's on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is the highest-grossing McD's in the world.

post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
 

MOODY WRITING © 2009

PSD to Blogger Templates realized by OOruc.com & PSD Theme designed by PSDThemes.com