Killing your darlings in 5 easy steps

The often quoted lines from Stephen King and William Faulkner tell us to “kill your darlings”. 

For verse novels, this is especially true, because, well, we might have a lot of darlings—those beautiful turns of phrases, a stanza that is just so poignant, a simile that does what no other writer has done before. BUT does it move the story forward?

A verse novel is always a story first, and by story I mean an emotional journey embarked on by reader and the protagonist. Not the author. Never the author. 

Darlings can be the beautiful stanza that don’t serve the story, but they can also be the pieces of you, the author, intruding into the journey of reader and protagonist.

 

How do we kill our darlings —the beautiful writing and the pieces of ourselves?

1. Find an accomplice. 

Have a critique partner or beta reader help you. Your darlings are not darlings to somebody else. When a beta reader says something like “the story slowed down for me here” or “I was pulled out of the story here”, that may be a sign that you the author have intruded too much in the story. 

2. Interrogate yourself.

Read your favorite lines critically. Why are they your favorite lines. Be honest. Do they serve the story? Do they propel the reader and the protagonist forward?

3. Kill more than you want to.

Especially in early drafts. Create a system that allows you to cut liberally out of your work, and paste and save the cut content in a different document. It’ll feel less painful to cut and paste your darlings elsewhere.

Delete if you are brave enough to do so and live with no regrets.

4. Plan your next move.

Read through the now hacked apart draft quickly, as a reader not an author. Note the gaps that now appear in the story, the holes to fill. Does the story flow better? Where did the story make you feel? Where did the story fall flat?

5. Stay confident.

Believe in your own writing ability. Banish the critic. Know that you are skilled and talented enough to write those beautiful and poignant lines again, but this time with purpose, meaning, and intention in moving the story forward.