Don’t Kill Your Darlings

In editing mode, it’s often brought up that writers should kill their darlings.  We should all just look at our prose and hack it to pieces, then forget about the junk we wrote before.

It’s an interesting idea, except it can only be used to refine a specific set of words.  Killing darlings isn’t enough; we have to premeditate their murder.

Previous drafts of Mind & Machine have a clear point where the story drifts into the underworld.  Commander, the lead character, is sent by the villain Der Former to visit a library and find the location of an ancient relic.  This is very much the middle portion of the book, the part where I want the reader to see more of Commander’s world as he discovers things he didn’t know about.

If it were that easy, I could kill the chapter where Commander’s friends try to learn more about the conspirators they’ve been fighting all along.  It would be essential to kill the chapter if it didn’t also serve to break up the two biggest stretches of exposition in the entire book.  Here’s a brief description of the chapters:

  • Der Former explains what he wants Commander to do (Exposition)
  • Kain interrogates one of Der Former’s victims (The chapter I can kill)
  • Commander meets Bright, who explains a lot of things (Exposition)

These are the scenes in question.  In these chapters, I take Commander from thinking he’s a major player in the world and reveal just how big the world really is.

Of those chapters, the third I’ve listed is going to go through some heavy revision.  This is so I can do more showing instead of telling on the part of librarian Sandra Bright.  With multiple point of view characters, I feel I have to balance the chapters to a degree, allowing the others to appear.

So, yes, I can kill the second of those chapters.  Instead, I’m going to murder the third chapter and build up the second to show more of what motivates the side characters.  I’ve even got a hint at the conclusion I’ll likely add.

That’s why I say murder your darlings with premeditation.  You can smooth out the pace of the overall story if you do.



2 thoughts on “Don’t Kill Your Darlings

  1. “Killing darlings isn’t enough; we have to premeditate their murder.” I really like that. 😀 You seem to have the right approach here for a big picture-level of editing. Every scene should have at least two purposes, and some of those might be meta.

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