Shannon Stacey

Leave my darlings alone

Last week, I tried to draft a Thursday Thirteen list called “Thirteen Bits of Writing Advice I Totally Ignore (Usually)”, but I got stuck on #9. While I’m sure I’ll finish that draft at some point, one of them has been sticking in my head, especially as I work through the rough draft of Taming Eliza Jane.

Kill your darlings.

There are plenty of resources out there detailing the origins of the phrase, what the originator meant, and how it’s been corrupted. I’m going to stick to my interpretation of the phrase, and how it was foisted on a young writer new to the internet and soaking up every bit of how-to “expert” advice she could. (Yeah, that would be me, about 6 years ago.)

A darling is a passage from your manuscript—narrative, dialogue, whatever—that is not only awesome, it’s wicked :censor: awesome. It’s the kind of passage that when you read it back to yourself, you have to get up out of your chair and do a victory lap. It’s a rush—you don’t suck, you don’t write crap. You can’t, because you just wrote the perfect line. It’s an orgasm on paper.

And you should kill it? Why? From what I gather, an orgasmic passage must be precocious. It’s literary grandstanding. The author’s ego intruding on the story. So…you must kill the darling.

To quote my sister, “Screw that, man.”

I think Taming Eliza Jane will be the most voice-driven of my books, and there are a ton of lines I love. But there’s one that, I swear, still makes me giggle with glee every time I read it. It’s definitely a darling. And I’m supposed to kill it? I think not, thanks.

To me, a darling could be grandstanding, but often it’s the author’s voice, the characters, the story and talent coming together in a big, awesome way in one passage. And the thought that a new writer could cut that passage because of “advice” that’s been bastardized in some Writer 101 version of the game Telephone really pisses me off. Darlings should be embraced and nurtured. If it turns out they really are nothing more than precocious little interlopers, your editor can tie the noose around their necks and make you kick out the chair. But it shouldn’t be done just because the passage knocks your socks off. On what planet does that even make sense?

So love your darlings—unless you have to kill them. But don’t kill them just because they’re darlings.

8 comments to “Leave my darlings alone”

  1. Melani Blazer
      · February 9th, 2007 at 10:30 am · Link

    Oh, I love darlings. To me, they’re inspiration to keep going. There’s been times I’ve found Darlings in other people’s books. Maybe they were darlings to them, maybe only I see the brilliance of them, but it’s that one sentence/phrase/paragraph that explains things so concisely and perfectly with the right tinge of emotion and character that it makes you say “Amen” out loud.

    Kill them? Glad I didn’t hear that advice. Of course, I would have nodded and said, “Oh I have,” because all my early ms’s involved people dying. :neener:

  2. Charlene
      · February 9th, 2007 at 11:38 am · Link

    I’m pretty sure that phrase means that if you’ve written something that’s really good but doesn’t belong in the story, you put it in the out-takes. F’r instance, I cut a thousand words from Wolf In Cheap Clothing, not because that scene sucked, but because it didn’t belong. I can always post it on my site as an out-take, but it had to go because it happens AFTER the story ends. You see the problem. When the story is over, it’s over. Doesn’t matter how good that scene is.

    The idea of cutting something good just because it’s good is INSANE. Who comes up with this stuff? And good means author intrusion? I don’t THINK so.

  3. Karen Templeton
      · February 9th, 2007 at 12:52 pm · Link

    :cheer: Shannon!

    I remember reading that advice a while ago (to basically take out all the stuff you like) and thinking, like you, “On what planet?”

    Why on earth would I submit a book filled only with stuff I DON’T like??? :wtf:

    I LOVE darlings. I PRAY for darlings to drop down from heaven and give me a reason for living. Or at least, to continue writing. And yes, I’ve been known to rewrite an entire scene around a darling. And damn proud of it I am, too.

    Which is not to say I haven’t cut scenes that didn’t work. But if there’s a darling in there, you bet your bippy I’ll find a new home for it. :boogie:

  4. Jaci Burton
      · February 9th, 2007 at 1:59 pm · Link

    I love those darlings. Sometimes you just sit back after a certain paragraph, or scene, or even a snippet of dialogue, and say, “Dayum, that was great!”. And if you get to keep it, even better.

    Sometimes you do have to kill them, but only if an editor tells you.

    I have this pirhana scene that I had to kill (Shan knows of which I speak) ……I still plan to use it in another book someday. :lmao:

  5. Shannon
      · February 9th, 2007 at 3:49 pm · Link

    Jaci, you wouldn’t have had to cut it if you’d simply rewritten the entire book so it took place on the banks of a slow-moving South American river. :groucho:

    And I’m like Karen. I’ve written in a scene to support a particularly good darling.

    That’s what it was originally intended to mean, Charli, for sure. But quite often the advice is given without the full explanation, and it gets warped.


    No, not that kind of warp.

    :crazy: <- me today. Mel, I see darlings in other people's work, too. Mostly recently, SEP's latest. I don't know if she sees them as darlings or not, but when the perfect line is delivered at the perfect moment in the perfect way, I consider it darling. And her books are just one after another. (Perhaps why I read the entire hardcover in 5 1/2 hours when I was supposed to be doing productive type things.)

  6. Shannon
      · February 9th, 2007 at 3:51 pm · Link

    Angie, you posted while I was typing. :type:

    Thank you for loving my darlings. :hug: And more importantly, thank you for not tying nooses around their necks and making me kick the chair out from under them.


  7. Angie
      · February 9th, 2007 at 3:47 pm · Link

    Actually, J, that piranha scene is MY darling. Find your own. But, uh…I still want you to write it into one of your books :neener:

    And I love your darlings, Shan. You write awesome ones :)

  8. Wax
      · February 11th, 2007 at 2:22 am · Link

    I think it’s a rare writer these days who doesn’t know the difference between darlings that need killing and darlings that serve a vital purpose. Or at least wouldn’t recognize it somewhere along the process.

    Personally, I err on the side of darlicide, but I do have that unnatural prediliction for the delete key. It sees more action than my characters, poor sots

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