Killing my darlings

‘Kill your darlings’ is unbelievably tough, but to end up with a well written book with a flow that sooths readers, every author will have to kill some of his/her darlings. I am sure most writers know what these ‘darlings’ are, and readers or non-writers can probably easily guess.

“Darlings, in writing, are those words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and even chapters that we are often most proud of. We love them, to the point that we almost don’t care if those bits are clear to readers or not. We love them, and we want to keep them. The problem is they can get in the readers’ point of view.”

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However, as a writer it isn’t always easy to recognize the ‘darlings’ and it’s a tougher challenge to kill or in other words delete them. If it’s not easy, then how did I go about the process, you might wonder. Like most writers, I needed help in this process, as you’ll read toward the end of this blog.

Having put writing on the back burner when I moved back to the Netherlands, I turned the stove back on a few years later when I came across snippets of short stories stuck up in my computer. As Terry Pratchett says..

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
― Terry Pratchett

So a rewriting process followed, in which I received helpful feedback from a writing coach and fellow writers. Their questions and feedback shaped the book. The story was no longer only in my mind, but played out on paper too, making it accessible for readers. Using the feedback a clearer picture appeared, and my bundle of short stories transitioned into a coherent novel. During this process I observed a common theme emerging in the book and I was able to interlink stories. It was a wonderful experience. I hadn’t got to the killing part yet.

Then the final stage, before the final editing phase, I asked my best friend – poet and avid reader – to give feedback. That’s when the tough decisions needed to be taken and the killing started. Rest assured, I’ve pasted the darlings that I needed to cut out from my debut novel in a blank document. To cherish and as I’m not the killing kind, I think I’ve just temporarily banned them to the dungeon instead. Who knows, these passages that I’ve come to cherish, may be of use in future books. Of course, as long as they don’t get struck through by beta-reader friends in the next manuscript. Some darlings may be killed forever. I don’t think killing darlings will ever get any easier, but I know it’s of utmost importance and I will always take such feedback seriously. After all, in the end, once the book is published, it’s out of my hands and up to the reader to judge and either to love or hate the book.

A recent Nature article I read – after all I am a STEM teacher during the day – shows it’s easy to add, but really tough to delete 😉.

“Improving objects, ideas or situations—whether a designer seeks to advance technology, a writer seeks to strengthen an argument or a manager seeks to encourage desired behaviour—requires a mental search for possible changes. The researchers investigated whether people are as likely to consider changes that subtract components from an object, idea or situation as they are to consider changes that add new components. They observed that people systematically default to searching for additive transformations, and consequently overlook subtractive transformations.”

abstract (slightly adapted) from People systematically overlook subtractive changes, Nature 7th April 2021, authors Gabrielle S. Adams et. al

Published by shakti

Author of Colours of a Cultural Chameleon. Kindle & paperback available on Amazon

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