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How Do You Kill Your Darlings?

You know the scenario: you're writing a speculative script, and you have a flash of inspiration. What you write next is not only inspired; it's witty, it's dramatic, it's thought-provoking. In short, it is the best piece of text written in a script ever.

That is until you edit.

And suddenly, that wonderful scene no longer has a place in your story. And you try to twist and contort both it and your new story so it can still fit, but every time you slot it into place, it twangs out like a rubber band containing one too many pencils. You can't get rid of such a perfect piece of writing. How will people ever know what you truly can do if this piece of writing falls into the digital recycle bin abyss? At this point, it is okay to cry, rage and talk to all your creative friends about how unfair your life is. But then you know it has to go. You highlight the text, and your finger hovers over the backspace …

And hovers …

And then you click away. You can't bring yourself to delete such a wonderful piece of writing.

If you find yourself in this situation, my dear writer, you have what many writers refer to as 'darlings'. And as Stephen King said in his memoir.

Kill your darlings kill your darlings even when it breaks your egocentric little scribblers heart kill your darlings stephen king

"Gee, thanks, Stephen. I know I need to, but I just can't," I hear you say.

But you know it has to go, and that's the start. My usual response to this situation when I have to kill a darling is to create a new document where I copy and paste my whole document and delete said darling – leaving the draft containing it as was for posterity. However, this option has a few problems. Firstly, it means I end up with lots of identically named documents with d1, d2, d3 (where d means draft) attached, which makes finding the version I am working on difficult. I also discovered it is complicated for my collaborators; I once turned up to a rehearsal where my dramaturg/producer had provided everyone with a previous version of my script, which caused a lot of confusion for the first read-through. This method also means my hard drive and cloud (backup your work people) are filled with multiple drafts of work that I never look at again. Honestly, not even joking. I don't look back.

So, I have now opted to keep a 'darlings' document. It allows me to copy and paste my wonderfully inspired writing and 'hold on to it' without holding the full document. It also allows me to relinquish its space and position in my existing writing, which means the darling writing can act as inspiration/idea pages to find my next piece of work.

Whilst working on this particular post and attempting to find who to attribute the "kill your darlings" line to, I did stumble across Brian K. Vaughn's take on this all. It is fairly sage advice, so I leave it here as food for thought:

Why teach young writers to edit out whatever it is they feel most passionate about?  Better to kill everything in their writing they DON'T love as much.  Until only the darlings remain."

What do you do with your darlings? Are you the kind of writer that can just destroy them, or do you have a method for holding on to them? ,

2 comentarios

23 may 2021

Thanks for this. I did that just the other week - set up a darlings doc. That last quotation has got me thinking though, I can write a short play for a call out, based around one darling!

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23 may 2021
Contestando a

Hey Wendy, that sounds like a great idea! I think if you can reuse those bits you're proud of for something else it improves your work and gives you confidence to keep going.

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