Editing, Feedback, For Writers

Killing My Darlings

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
― William Faulkner

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
—Stephen King

This November I’m double dipping in the creative well. My NaNoWriMo project is also my thesis project for my Master’s in Creative Writing. So, last week I had to submit the fifty pages that I had written and in order to get feedback from my midterm reader. However, when I got the feedback, I wasn’t very happy. Now don’t give me wrong, the feedback wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. In fact, this feedback would require a complete rewrite of those fifty pages. So, in honor of those fallen pages, I decided to write this blog post about killing your darlings. William Faulkner famously said the line and Stephen King perpetuated, it but basically what killing your darlings means to me is getting rid of things that you may think are important but are really just things that are special to you not the story itself. Today I’m going to share three things that helped me when it came time to kill my own darlings.

  1. Making a list of feedback points: Because I didn’t want to just go heavy handed with a red pen throughout all that I had done, I decided to make a list. I pointed out what areas she had commented on, and what she said about those things and it help me to see an overall picture of where my areas of weakness were. From there, I could really see if there was a common thread (which there was) as to why she thought my story wasn’t reading at the age that I was writing it, why my story wasn’t progressing fast enough at the beginning of the book, and where the areas were that my protagonist didn’t really connect with my readers. From there, I decided to tackle one thing at a time. I lumped things up together and made a new list of things like point of view or character voice which were now large things that I could look for as I reread instead of specific comments at certain spots. This really helps me to have a new lens to focus each time that I reread so that I wasn’t just making marks as I went along for everything, but I was looking for specific things.
  2. Listing pros only on a T-chart: Getting feedback on your work is always hard, and there were a few comments (especially the ones about point of view) that I was really having a hard time getting on board with. What I did was I create a T-chart where I compared what the positives were of either my version or the feedback version, in order to see whether I was simply avoiding changing things because I was attached or if it was a valid thing for me to keep. For example, my story was originally written in third person with multiple viewpoints. So the first thing that I did was I made a T-chart comparing multiple viewpoints versus a single viewpoint. In my mind, I was very clear that I wanted multiple points of view for this story because I thought each character had something to add and that the things that they went through were important to the overall story. When I did this, it became clear to me that although each of the scenes that I had written for my various viewpoints, outside of the main character’s, were interesting and fun, they weren’t really necessary to drive forward the plot in a way that kept readers invested. In the end, I decided to change it. So, I’m going to write a single perspective for my story. The second large change that was suggested was going from third person to first person. Now, I’m a third person kind of gal and when I go to write I automatically use third person. This was a no-brainer for me. I was more comfortable with third person and it Just felt easier for me. However, when I made the T-chart it didn’t really help. Which leads me to my third and final point…
  3. Researching: By making a T-chart, I was able to decide on going from multiple points of view to one perspective by thinking of what was best for my story. However, I still couldn’t decide whether first person or third person would work best for my story. So, I decided to do some research. I looked up what genres did best with first person. I researched which of the most popular YA and MG books were written in third person and which ones were written in first person. I also looked at the writing styles of various books like the Percy Jackson series versus the Harry Potter series, Divergent versus the Hunger Games, and tons of others that fit the type of story that I was trying to tell. Because looking at point of view was all about character, I tried to decide which of these styles would fit best with the character that I was trying to write, but also which point of view would allow my readers to really see the personality of my main character, especially now that I had decided to take out all of the points of use from my other characters.
Samples of notes I made for myself after receiving feedback on my WIP

In the end, both of the major changes that were suggested through my feedback were things that I decided to go ahead and do. The process wasn’t easy. In fact, many of the scenes that I had to cut are still things that I hold on to because maybe they’ll come into play later on and I still want to have those written down.

I want to clarify by saying that I didn’t make all the changes that were recommended because not all of them fit, but when it came to those two, I went ahead and had to kill my darlings.

One thing that I did do after receiving this feedback and making the lists was spend a day where I didn’t write anything at all. I didn’t look at it. I didn’t change it. All I did was marinate on my thoughts and the decisions that I was going to make and it helped me a lot when it came time to write. Even though I immediately jumped back into third person on accident, I was able to quickly clarify where I was going and what I wanted to accomplish. Now that I’ve fixed it, I’m even more excited about my story and about my main character (who I had previously had concerns about as she wasn’t as interesting as the side characters were). I’m thankful for the feedback. My decision to go ahead and look at my story subjectively, take criticism, process it, and ultimately change things that I love, has made my story better.

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