Reviving Your Darlings

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

Hands up if you’ve heard, read or shared William Faulkner’s quote about killing your darlings. It’s a common piece of writing advice touted by Faulkner and many other writers in one form or another, including Oscar Wilde and Stephen King—who advised that you should “kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart.”

To put your mind at ease, killing your darlings isn’t about physically killing the things that distract you from writing (so your partner, kids, fur babies, TBR pile and NetFlix subscriptions are safe), but rather it’s about cutting pieces of your writing to make it better.

Cutting words will make things better? You ask, horrified because you’re a writer and words are your life, but the answer is yes!

The words you need to cut—the darlings—are named as such because they are the parts kept in by the writer simply because they love them so much. It’s the paragraphs you’ve worked so hard on that you simply don’t want to take them out, even if it’s for the betterment of your work. These darlings may be…

  • That section so flowery that it was perfect when your book started off as a romance but doesn’t suit now that it has morphed into a dystopian saga.
  • A character who doesn’t work anymore. Sometimes those darlings are fictional people, and like a real-life downer, you need to cut the toxic character from your book.
  • A plot thread that isn’t relevant, no matter how much you loved the twist, or how long it took you to work it into the story.
  • A reference that is personal to you but wouldn’t mean anything to a reader. It’s like an inside joke. If you “had to be there” to get it, it shouldn’t be in your book.
  • A two paragraph description that really could be described in one sentence but you were on a roll that day and it was the best writing you had ever done up until that point, and no one has ever described a bedroom in such a way, the way the light filtered in from the pulled up blinds, and stretched out across the pale daffodil colored wa—no! Just no. Cut it.
  • The sentence or paragraph that fails to flow but you kept it because it used your favorite word ever.
  • And many other examples which I’m sure you know in your head need to be cut, but your heart won’t allow it.

Writing is hard. Crafting a whole book is harder. And when you’ve worked that hard, it’s difficult to erase any of the efforts that you’ve put in. There is hope, though, if you have trouble letting go of those scenes that stirred something in you even though they stick out of the finished draft like a sore thumb.

In fact, you don’t have to discard any of the ideas that you know aren’t working because you can revive them instead! Rather than killing off your darlings with one foul strike of the delete key—save them.

Squirrel away that text like the word hoarder you know you secretly are and keep those precious sentences! Create notepad files, word documents, new texts in Scrivener or handwrite index cards—whatever medium of note taking works for you—so that you can tuck your darlings away for safe keeping.

That way, when you’re working on a different project, that character you had to get rid of because they were too harsh becomes your new villain. Those pale daffodil walls are the perfect setting for that romantic short story. That plot twist that didn’t work is the perfect kick-off event for your new epic sci-fi trilogy. You can even do what Rebecca over at the Rust Belt Girl blog does with her darlings (or Inklings as she calls them), and take those discarded sentences, draw out a random one, and use it as a writing prompt to get yourself through a bout of writer’s block.

By reviving your disposable text, you can happily say words are still your life because you’ll no longer be killing them. And there’s certainly something darling about that.

— K.M. Allan

Follow me on Instagram and Facebook, where the only thing I’m killing is my good intentions to sit and write without procrastinating on social media.

20 thoughts on “Reviving Your Darlings

  1. I am a huge fan of recycling one’s darlings. I haven’t made a document to save witty-but-unusable descriptions yet (that’s a great idea, though!) but I do recycle characters through different stories like there’s no tomorrow. I even have a few I’ve managed to hold onto from when I first started writing original fiction in high school; it’s fascinating to see how some of them have evolved as they’ve moved between stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! In going to revisit my manuscript to see if I can identify my little darlings. I know I have some. Thank God I don’t have to kill them, but put them in a safe document to use for another script. Thanks for sharing :)!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love love love this post, because it is something I think about a lot! For my current WIP I wrote a scene that I loved, I loved the interaction between the two characters it involved and their dialogue was spot on. Yet, it was so random when I saw it in the context of my story, it added nothing of any value, and simply didn’t fit. I cut it out, but kept the words. Who knows when I might need them?

    My current WIP features two particularly main characters, who were both from separate stories I attempted to write in the past. These very different stories didn’t work for various reasons, yet when I began planning this one, the two characters effortlessly worked together. So I love that you’ve highlighted the possibilities of ‘reviving your darlings’ because I think we all need the confidence to keep works that we THINK have no place, but could surprise us along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ruth Miranda

    I never save any of them – my scatter brain will not allow for it when I’m editing, busy as it is with trying to push through and find stuff that does not fit – but have found myself using stuff in other owrks that I suddenly think “Well, now, where did I hear that one?” only to realise I had one day written something like that and ended up killing it off.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I once filled 3/4 of a page of a novel (now published) with what I believed to be the most heartfelt, painfully poetic inner dialogue I’d ever written. No one told me to do it, but something about that passage kept nagging me; so, I sharpened my critical scissors and began snipping away. I ended up with a concise but powerful paragraph which rammed the meaning home to the reader in far fewer words. Alas, I still love the original! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know how you feel, Michael. Sometimes after I cut a section from a WIP, I’ll remember what it said when I’m re-reading, and try to convince myself it sounded better before and I should add it back in, even though I know taking it out was the right decision for the flow of the words. It’s a constant battle between keeping what you love, or making the book the best it can be. And it’s a hard lesson to learn that those two aren’t always the same thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Did not know this quote originated with Faulkner. Thought is was all King. Thanks for the clarification. I feel I’ve learned something important. 😀 And I love your idea about saving the bits you cut out for potential future use. This is particularly good advice for fantasy writers, as it provides ideas for spin-offs and sequels to expand a new-world setting. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is great advice! I’ve always struggled with feeling like I was “giving up” the things I take out of my writing. Starting a file to keep them as potential future inspiration is a genius idea. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. Thanks for reading. I started a file a few years ago and it’s ended up being larger (word count wise) than some of the books I’ve written 😂. My advice is to save individual files rather than just one big file, which is something I wished I’d done. Either way, I’m happy that I have those cut out parts, because you never know what ideas or stories they may spark in the future.


  8. Thank you ever so much K.M. I have a hard time killing my darlings. They seem bulletproof. I try to revive them while they are only semi-conscious and don’t work. I cut 10 words only to substitute 30 new ones. Not much good at editing, but I will try to kill them off a little. If they refuse to die again another day, I will save them to a new document. I CAN do that. That’s easy…it’s a little death, more like a non-threatening knifing than a brutal slaying. You’ve inspired me. Love, love your blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Therese. I’ve also fallen victim to cutting out a few sentences only to replace it with whole paragraphs of new text 🤣. Good luck with your non-threatening knifings 😀.


  9. It’s the toughest part to kill darlings characters, fancy words or settings but now I get the courage to be able to make new stories with them. Thanks for this one for I have this habit of being so close to them, reluctant to get rid of such characters or lengthy paragraphs that are largely irrelevant.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You had me laughing out loud with your fine examples of Darlings.
    I’m now very used to the delete key – using with wild abandon on some days.
    I’m also a lazy filer, so I delete whole sections of text, never to be seen again. I figure if I ever have the opportunity to reuse them later, they’ll magically reform in my imagination and flow out of my fingertips again one day.
    Who am I kidding? It’s taking so damn long to finish my current WIP that Alzheimers will set in and those darlings will be lost forever. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Darlings done in: May 20, 2018 – Rust Belt Girl

Comments are closed.