Craft,  Discipline

A Writer’s Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings

  In the world of writers, killing your darlings means getting rid of those story bits that need to die, even though the author may have fallen in love with them.

But in the world of writers, the author who wants to write well, should be ruthless when it comes to removing the unwanted or unsightly from our manuscripts.

Here’s how:

Obliterate your Prologue.

In one swift move, hit select all and delete. It’s gone. You probably didn’t feel a thing. Why? Most prologues are unnecessary. Prologues often assume your reader needs to be spoon-fed every little detail. They don’t! Prologues should only be there if they shed vitally important information to the plot or characters and it can’t be inserted in any other way. So take your prologue out. But leave the cannoli.

Bring all your weak characters to the guillotine.

18th Century French Revolutionaries believed that the guillotine was the most humane way to execute. So line up all those mamby-pamby personalities, those random guys in the background, that grocery store clerk that you thought might have a purpose and pull the cord. There shouldn’t be room in your manuscript for people who have no purpose other than to pad your word count. Kill them all!

Entrap those plot bunny trails.

This may be really hard for you since plot bunny trails are so cute and fun. But with them, you must be as ruthless as a hungry eagle with long, pointy talons. Reach down and clutch each one of those bunny trails with great force! Eliminate their uselessness! Take hold of their tangential fuzziness and stick them somewhere far away, like, say, another story. Perhaps there, they could multiply like rabbits and create a new story all their own.

Hack away at your cliches.

And really, really hack, like with a dull machete. Back in the first draft, you may have thrown a trite phrase in as a marker for a point you wanted to work in later. Or you really may have been typing really fast. Or maybe, just maybe, you think that having an old, worn-out phrase is a good idea. Honey, it’s not. We’ve got a nice flat cutting surface for you. Go for it. Cliches must die. If they’ve served its purpose, they go on the cutting room floor.

Assault your unnecessary and weak scenes.

Hit ’em! Kick ’em! Knock ’em down! Don’t let them up! You’ll know if a scene needs it’s butt kicked if it doesn’t move the story forward in any way. If a scene doesn’t give the reader new information, bring the main character closer or farther away from the main goal, but does nothing but add to the word count, it needs a can of whup-ass. If you take it out, then you’ll keep your pacing intact, you’ll keep the reader interested and you’ll feel like a tough guy.

Firebomb your backstory.

It’s going to take a lot of firepower to blast all that exposition out, but you gotta do it. When you were drafting, you created all this crazy structure of your character’s life. You built fact upon fact. This house of cards is now sky high in your notes and brain. But it’s an eyesore for your reader. And you don’t have time to take it out piece by piece. Meh, just light a bomb under the sucker. The debris will fall in all the right places and you’ll know what bits to put in in the right places.

Plug your purple prose.

I know, I know, you get carried away sometimes at the lingering sunset that sunk on the horizon like a hunk of playdough on fire, blazing in glory. Sentences like this may have sounded gorgeous at the time, but what they do, really, is point to the idiot who wrote them. You don’t want your purple prose to make you look bad, right? Then pull out that red-inked pistol and shoot it between the eyes. If there is a mercy killing in this list, the death of the purple prose would be it.

Strangle your first chapter.

Most first chapters in most first drafts need the wind taken out of them. Do this especially if your first chapter has your main character waking up from a dream, looking out the window contemplating the universe, or starting off their day with the buzz of an alarm. Your first chapter, really, was just there to get you started in the beginning draft. It’s served its purpose and you need to put a lot of thought into how you open your book. That early first chapter just isn’t going to cut it. Kill this darling and do it quickly. No one is looking.

Now I’ve seen my share of gangster movies, so I know a heartless murderer when I see one (at least when I’m safely on one side of a screen). I think that writers should have the same brutality of  Tony Soprano when it comes to killing off the weak parts of their manuscripts.

But that’s just in the writing. Writing only. Really.

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.