Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to (not) kill babies

"Kill off your darlings."

Common piece of writing advice there. So what does it really mean?

Well, sometimes when we write, we craft beautiful sentences. And not just sentences either, but beautiful paragraphs or scenes or ideas when everything seems perfect. I spent my entire college education referring to them as "babies," but internet seems to like the term "darlings" better.

However, the idea is the same. There a sentence/paragraph/scene/etc that you love unconditionally. It's the kind of sentence that makes it impossible to imagine a world where it isn't in your novel.

I'm starting to sound a bit melodramatic, I know, but that's how writers feel about their babies. We don't want to part with them.

And you might be wondering, why would you want to do that anyway? If the sentence/paragraph/scene/etc is so wonderful, why in the world would you delete it?

For several reasons. Maybe you have to rewrite a scene, and suddenly that one sentence doesn't mesh with the mood or the plot. Maybe your dramatic paragraph is just a giant blob of purple prose and needs to be parsed down. Or maybe the entire scene is one giant darling, but your characters are out-of-character. Either way, sometimes it needs to happen, and it's an incredibly difficult edit to accept.

So let me share a secret that'll making killing all of your babies 100% sweeter:

Don't delete them.

That's right. Don't completely kill them. Instead, copy your untouched paragraph into a separate document. Then go ahead and chop up the original draft to your heart's content. That way, there will always be a preserved copy of your darling. Maybe you'll want to go back to your original scene, or maybe you'll be able to use it in a different scene.

Either way, the stress and heartache of deleting your baby, will go away. It'll make writing easier when you don't have to agonize about how much you don't want to give that sentence/paragraph/scene/etc up.

So how do you feel about killing your babies, or rather, your darlings? Do you reluctantly accept that it needs to be done, or do you fight tooth and nail against The Man? Also, regarding the whole darlings vs. babies thing . . . have you ever encountered this terminology discrepancy, or am I just crazy? Tell me what you think in the comments!