Wednesday, April 30, 2014

History Lesson: Kill Your Darlings

Writer Stephen King

"Kill your Darlings."  What does this mean and who originally said it?

Slate magazine writer Forrest Wickman writes in his article Who Really Said "Kill your Darlings?"   that the phrase is an old piece of writing advice given to aspiring writers. "To 'kill your darlings" is an approach to the writing process where the writer deletes  precious or indulgent sections for the greater good of the entire work.  Also referred as "kill your babies" these group of words are a lesson on being able to chop up, even if it hurts.

Famous writers have a versions of "kill your darlings." Stephen King wrote  "kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler heart, kill your darlings."  

Most of the journalists on our staff thought this phrase was originally coined by William Faulkner. However, Wickman's research shows it was first published in a popular 1914 book  On the Art of Writing by Arthur Quiler-Couch.  In a section on writing style, he warned against "extraneous ornament."

If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press.  Murder your darlings. 

The application of this advice can go beyond writing and can be applied to the often tormenting process of painting or drawing. Artists must make decisions on what parts do not flow with the work, sometimes erasing sections that are the most clever.

See the entire Slate article here:

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