The popular writing advice goes something like "sometimes you have to kill your darlings." That's a paraphrase. This advice has been shot down the log flume of telephone and come out the other end looking a bit worse for wear; being peated and repeated until it's become a Monet to an Ansel Adams. So its intent and original meaning may be lost with it's originator (who, by the way, is NOT Stephen King) but I'll tell you how I see it.
I see this interpreted often as literally killing off a character. And this is can be true sometimes but it also has a much broader meaning.
I'll give you an example from my business. When I was first forming Polar Bear Editing naming it was top on my to-do list. Almost anything with allusions to writing or the literary world were taken. Anything I thought of...BOOM!...already taken.
The name I clung onto for dear life was "Royal Writers Club," after all it wasn't taken. I have an old Royal typewriter. It was a gift one Christmas. I remember the box was just barely wrapped, and the hung of metal sat unceremoniously at the bottom with wadded up newspaper on top. As the keys came into view and what it was slammed into my conscious the words I blurted, censor broken, were "Are you shitting me?" The sort of "are you shitting me" when you get something you've always wanted but never expected and suddenly it's yours. It's not functional. It could be. Even so it's been my companion for years, sitting next me, looking lovely. And the beautiful little 'Royal' logo staring at me. So with that, while brainstorming, Royal Writers Club was born. And soon, murdered.
I created a logo for "Royal Writers Club." I was stuck on those three words... Royal, writers, and club... But the issue I was having is that this is a business not a club. I was concerned that it wouldn't be immediately evident what the business does or even that it's a business at all. So I realized I had to cut club out. My other concern was the copyright of "Royal" in conjunction with the typewriter. I didn't want to be managing this business and invest in materials with the logo and the name to run into an issue with copyright. Given that my logo was an outline of a generic typewriter and didn't otherwise associate itself with the brand, and also I think the brand doesn't actually exist anymore, I felt the possibility was extremely low that I'd run into a problem but I felt it was enough of a possibility that I wanted to avoid it.
My research on it didn't provide me with the answers I needed and hiring a copyright attorney at that stage in my business creation was not in the budget by a country mile... So...you know what...you guessed it...I had to kill that darling. You're not reading this on the royal writers club blog or even royal writers editing. Nope.
Polar Bear editing is what I was trying to make royal writers club.
In this case my darling was a name for a few business.
In another case of darlingcide, I was writing a book and the main character was getting off the bus in a rough neighborhood. I spent two days and several hours researching pictures, and real estate listings describing the type of architecture, exploring other people's ideas of what such a neighborhood looked like, I even scoured my own memory.
It was three paragraphs.
Those three paragraphs got reduced to three sentences upon further evaluation. And to one sentence upon further further evaluation.
This description of this part of a city was my darling for two days while I researched just the right way to describe it. But in the end it was decided the reader didn't require it. The story didn't require it. It was cut for good but for one sentence that merely hinted at what this place looked like.
I laugh at myself for this. I lament the time spent trying to get everything just right only to hack it away with the bluntest of axes but the sharpest of intentions.
That time wasn't wasted. I was building a skill (research) honing a talent (writing) and learning what's important (by cutting it all out). So the next time I encounter such a task I'll recognize quicker what's important and I'll have a better idea of what's needed along with a cache of descriptors I can utilize without so much research.
And Royal Writers club is in the process of becoming a different project.
I killed my darlings but they live on in different reincarnation.
Essentially, a darling can be anything. It has no limits. It can be an entire book idea, a chapter, a description. It can be a character. A character that ends up never even existing in the story or a character that literally dies in the story.
The experience of deciding on darlingcide or not is a moment of growth for you as a writer.
What darlings have you killed?
Jeannette is unicorn cat who loves her job, her kids, and her husband. She’s an exceptional novel editor who’s been studying story elements for more than twenty years and wields her story ax with charm and skill. Email her to learn more about how she can help your novel or inspire you to reach your publishing goals.
You can follow her on twitter at @Polar_Bear_Edit