January 14, 2015

Kill Your Darlings

By Gini Koch

Right after the importance of learning how to “show” versus “tell”, there’s no more vital step in the writing process than learning how and when to kill your darlings.

What I mean by “darlings” is a character, a phrase, a scene, a plot point, a running thread, etc., that you, the author, are so very much in love with that it’s blinding you to a gigantic and gigantically important fact – the darling is ruining your story.

I say this as someone who’s killed more darlings than most others will ever write. I’ve killed millions of words – massive plot threads, witty one-liners, and entire books loaded with characters and scenes I adored. And I killed them because they weren’t publishable, didn’t properly serve the story, or were a distraction from what the real story was.

That’s not to say you should hate what you write in order for it to be any good. Far from it. I, frankly, love what I write. If I don’t love it, if I don’t think it’s the best I can do, no one else sees it, period. However, you do have to learn when something you just adore is the reason your story isn’t working.

Beta readers (those good folks who read your story before anyone else does) are one option. Any time you have more than one beta reader saying that a character, plot device, or “just something around this part of the book” is bothering them, you need to take a closer look at what you’re doing in that area and why. Many times the betas have picked up that you’ve fallen in love with something that doesn’t work for this story, even if they can’t articulate what it is, or even enjoy what’s going wrong.

A good critique partner can also be an excellent Darling Spotter. Crit partners tend to focus on your craft, so if your crit partner says you’re indulging yourself, you probably are, and should determine if those special words really matter to the story.

But what if you have no crit partner or beta readers? Then it’s all up to you. Reread what you’ve written. If you’re skimming, figure out why. Evaluate any area you skim during reread or think about with the “Well I can’t get rid of THIS” attitude. Chances are some of those will be darlings that are taking the story so far off course that it can never recover – they can and should be killed.

Sometimes it’s fine to go off course and chart the new world being discovered. But frequently those side trips are detrimental to the story and also a colossal waste of time. Always stop and consider how something you adore fits into the overall goal of this particular story.

By the way, never delete your darlings. Cut them and save them elsewhere. Because while they may not be right for THIS story, on rare occasion you may be able to resurrect them, or a version of them, in another story.
Gini Koch writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series for DAW Books, the Necropolis Enforcement Files series, and the Martian Alliance Chronicles series for Musa Publishing. Alien in the House, Book 7 in her long-running Alien series, won the RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Award as the Best Futuristic Romance of 2013. As G.J. Koch she writes the Alexander Outland series and she’s made the most of multiple personality disorder by writing under a variety of other pen names as well, including Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch. Currently, Gini has stories featured in the Unidentified Funny Objects 3, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, and Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets anthologies, and, writing as J.C. Koch, in Kaiju Rising: Age ofMonsters, The Madness of Cthulhu, Vol. 1, and A Darke Phantastique anthologies. She will also have a story in the first book in an X-Files anthology series coming out in 2015. Social Media Links: Website:  Blah, Blah, Blah Blog:
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