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Kill Your Darlings: The Art of Letting Go for the Sake of Your Story

“Kill Your Darlings” is a time-honored piece of advice that encourages writers to be ruthless when it comes to editing. Even if you love a scene or passage (your “darlings”), they need to go if they don't serve the story. Here’s how to apply this principle effectively:

1. Identify the Purpose of Each Scene:
Analyze every scene and ask, "What is the purpose of this scene?" Does it advance the plot, develop a character, or enhance the theme? If a scene doesn't have a clear and necessary role, it's a candidate for cutting. Each scene should contribute something essential to the narrative, whether it’s moving the plot forward, revealing something crucial about a character, or reinforcing a theme.

2. Detach Emotionally:
Understand that your affection for a specific scene or phrase might be personal and doesn't necessarily translate into it being beneficial for your story. Learn to separate your ego from your work. This detachment allows you to evaluate your writing more objectively and make decisions that benefit the overall story rather than preserving your favorite parts.

3. Save Your Darlings:
Before you start cutting, create a separate document where you save the sections you remove. Knowing that they’re not gone forever can make it easier to let go. This way, you can revisit these sections later and possibly repurpose them in future projects or different parts of your current story.

4. Evaluate Feedback Objectively:
When beta readers or editors suggest cuts, listen. They don’t have the emotional attachment to the material that you do, so their perspective can be invaluable. Their suggestions can highlight parts of your story that may not be as effective or necessary as you believe, helping you see your work through a different lens.

5. Assess the Story's Flow:
If removing a darling smooths out the pacing or tightens the narrative, it’s likely a good move. Pay attention to how the story reads without that particular section. Removing extraneous material often benefits a smoother, more coherent story, keeping readers engaged and focused on the main narrative.

6. Revisit After Time:
Put your work aside for a while, then come back to it with fresh eyes. You may find that a scene you were attached to no longer feels as essential. Time away from your manuscript can provide clarity and help you recognize parts that don’t serve the story as well as you initially thought.

7. Seek the ‘Why’ Behind the Love:
If you’re attached to a particular scene or line, understand why. If it's the writing style, can that be applied elsewhere? If it’s an aspect of character development, is there a better place for it? Identifying the core reason for your attachment can help you find ways to incorporate the essence of what you love into more critical parts of the narrative.

8. Revise for Story, Not Sentiment:
Remember, your ultimate goal is to make the story the best it can be, not to preserve every piece of writing you love. Prioritize the story’s integrity and the reader’s experience over your attachment to specific elements.

Practical Steps for Killing Your Darlings

  1. Create a "Darling Graveyard": A separate document or folder where you save all the cut scenes, phrases, or sections. This can alleviate the fear of losing your favorite parts permanently.

  2. Seek External Feedback: Share your manuscript with trusted beta readers or editors. Their objective insights can help you identify darlings that need to go.

  3. Use Editing Tools: Tools like Grammarly or Hemingway can highlight overly complex or redundant sentences, helping you streamline your prose.

  4. Compare Versions: After making cuts, compare the original and revised versions of your manuscript to see the impact of your changes on the story’s flow and clarity.

  5. Prioritize Narrative Efficiency: Focus on making every word, sentence, and scene serve a purpose in advancing the story, developing characters, or enhancing themes.

Embracing the Process

"Killing your darlings" is an act of honing your narrative, streamlining your story, and putting your readers’ experience above your own attachment to specific pieces of writing. It’s a hard but essential part of the revision process, affirming that the integrity of the story takes precedence over individual components, no matter how well-crafted they may be.

By embracing this process, you ensure that your story remains tight, compelling, and effective. Letting go of unnecessary elements can be challenging, but it ultimately strengthens your manuscript, making it more impactful and resonant with your audience. Your willingness to edit ruthlessly reflects your commitment to delivering the best possible story.