From the Editor's Desk
Kill Your Darlings
Most people think the phrase means killing off beloved characters.
Not true. Mostly.
To the best of our knowledge, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said it first: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—wholeheartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.
More famously, William Faulkner kept it short: In writing, you must kill all your darlings. And Stephen King added flourish: Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings.
The sentiment speaks to an author’s unreasonable and unhealthy attachment to particular chapters/scenes/phrases/words, which makes them oblivious to its/their disposability. Unnecessary storylines, and sometimes characters, must be removed for the sake of the story.
Frequently, authors are blind to their darlings, or can’t bring themselves to cut them out. Enter the developmental editor. The axe wielding slayer of gratuitous, dispensable, extraneous, useless, pointless chapters/scenes/phrases/words, and even characters.
After you’ve had your defensive rant, which you never, ever share with your editor, use the critical eye you employ when reading other people’s books on your MS. Remembering an editor’s job is to make your book better, were the cuts/changes warranted?
Ninety percent of the time, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Where there is room for discussion, initiate it—professionally.
Creating a solid relationship with your editor means when your darlings die, you can toast their demise knowing they’ve been relegated to an afterlife akin to outtake reels. You can look back at what’s been cut and laugh, understanding your book is better for your darlings’ absence.