You’ve heard Faulkner say “you must kill all your darlings” and Stephen King say “it’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own”, so how does this help you when it comes time to get out the red pen?
Camilla Gibb, award-winning author of Mouthing the Words and The Beauty of Humanity Movement, recently told the CBC about the harshest thing an editor ever said to her: “‘It’s not the reader’s job to indulge you, Camilla.’ She was specifically referring to a chapter of a manuscript that I had enjoyed writing more than any other chapter. Yowza. Joy killer. And yet, it was probably also the wisest thing an editor ever said.”
When you love a passage or a chapter too much, it shows. It might stick out because it demonstrates a POV that we don’t need, it might introduce new themes that don’t fit in, and however beautifully written the passage is–and the darlings usually are–it needs to be cut.
You’ll know it’s a darling if:
- Your agent or editor suggests cutting it and you find yourself resisting on no apparent grounds.
- It is overwritten with metaphors.
- It is telling not showing.
- It is your favourite turn of phrase, but beta readers don’t find it memorable.
- It feels indulgent.
- Your gut is telling you something. You might mistake for a darling, but it’s usually an obtrusive passage.
Are you defending your darlings because you are stubborn or because you think they have merit? If it’s the former, this business is full of collaboration, especially when writing in isolation is over, so learning to communicate properly through the editing process and being able to evaluate your own emotions (and often check them at the door) is essential to being an author editors want to work with.
Edits are there for author approval, as it is your work, but as an agent I can only strongly advise where to cut.
Keeping a ‘darling’ can slow pace, take readers in a different direction and ultimately confuse them about the intentions of the book. Less is more. It isn’t the reader’s job to read around your darlings, it’s the reader’s job to have a meaningful reading experience.
(Image via kyungduk kim)