Don’t Kill Your Darlings

A post at Jane Friedman’s blog: What Taylor Swift’s Vault Tracks Can Teach You About Not Killing Your Darlings

I write a lot about killing your darlings. Or, rather, not killing your darlings but saving them for later. These scraps that say something beautiful or important to you, but don’t ultimately fit in your current work-in-progress, can still have serious value for another project down the road. That might be snippets of dialogue, a catchy turn of phrase, or a full-fledged character or plot line.

…Swift originally wrote “Castles Crumbling” for her 2010 album, Speak Now, but when it didn’t make the cut, she found opportunities to use the same imagery in future songs, like “Call It What You Want” (Reputation, 2017). The entire context of the song is completely different, of course (with Reputation, she’s turned that crumbling castle into a thing of splendor), but the same image kicks the whole thing off: “My castle crumbled overnight…”

I don’t know much about Taylor Swift, but I’m certainly on board with any post that argues: Don’t kill your darlings. They say something beautiful or important to you.

To the idea that “darlings” can be saved for later, which is true, I would add that pretty often, “darlings” can be made to, not just fit your current WIP, but be essential to it. If you’ve got a great line, a great scene, a great character, then maybe it’s worth taking 20 minutes to consider how you could jigger your WIP so that whatever your “darling” might be, it becomes integral to that project.

If not, then sure, stick them in a “save for later” file. I totally vote for never throwing away something you love, whether it’s a single phrase or an entire character arc.

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Kill Your Darlings”

  1. I had an attempt at writing a Harry Potter fanfiction when I was a young teenager. Reading back over it afterwards, there was one single sentence that I still actually liked.

    That single sentence, reworked slightly, made it into the final version of that fanfiction story a good twenty years later. Apart from the main OC character and an intensified form of one of his original problems, absolutely nothing else survived from that original attempt, and a good thing too. (The original attempt really *was* awful. A fifteen-year-old trying to write a recovery story… uuuurgh. But what are you meant to do, when the main character walks into your head and won’t walk out again?)

    A chapter from that same fanfic, during the twenty-years-later “let’s see whether I can actually do a decent job of telling this character’s story now” total rewrite from scratch, got put in and taken out again at least five times before it finally came down on the side of IN. The tale wouldn’t be the same without it now!

  2. Heather, I think it is SUCH a “writer thing” to be really keen on a specific sentence and completely determined to use it somewhere. It’s funny to think of a story morphing completely but THAT ONE SENTENCE staying in the story. I think every writer would probably nod in recognition: Good, good, important to hang onto that sentence.

    I used to actually delete earlier versions of novels. I look back on that now with astonishment. I think I learned better after switching a chapter from first to third and back to first and back to third …

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