Writer’s Phrases: Kill Your Darlings

Understanding Writer Lingo

Kill your darlings is another phrase I’d always heard yet never fully understood.

Years ago, I took this phrase literally within the context of fiction: kill your favorite character. I wasn’t completely wrong.

Darlings, in a way, may be defined as any writing you’re fond of that obstructs the story. A darling may be a character. Yet, a darling may also be a phrase or metaphor or even a single word.

My first drafts of my novel DEAD GODS were written through the point of view (POV) of eight characters that alternated chapters. I was fond of each of them. For the sake of the narrative, I needed to kill many of these darlings.

I started by killing three tertiary characters: Those hurt. After some revisions, I killed two secondary characters: easier. I didn’t want to admit it, but I needed to kill one more character, a favorite of mine and many who read my writing, but for the same reason as the other darlings, she needed to go. This ultimately brought my final manuscript to two POVs in an alternating, chapter structure while allowing the killed off characters to inject life into the setting.

These darlings aren’t dead; they’ve simply been demoted to non-POV status, and ultimately, my novel has become far stronger due to these choices. In addition, what ended up in my graveyard of writing has helped me write the sequel: save all writing.

I’m going to cut this post short because my next posts will continue the Kill Your Darlings thread by looking at how those darling characters obstructed my story.

In later posts, I’ll be looking at how single words and metaphors may be darlings as well. This may seem a simple concept compared to killing off entire characters; however, words and metaphors tend to be far more personal.

Author: Chuck Lang

Chuck Lang is a writer of science fiction and horror. Influenced by his years as a carpenter, four years serving in the US Navy, and his fifteen years teaching literature, he holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Lindenwood University. After completing his first manuscript, the supernatural horror novel DEAD GODS, in 2019, he has begun work on its two sequels, DEAD GODS: INHERITANCE and DEAD GODS: RESOLUTION. He is currently developing two additional projects, an urban fantasy horror novel and a military science fiction novel. He lives and writes near the frequently flooded Red River in Fargo, ND with his wife and two redhead sons.

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