If you have any sort of experience in the writing world, you have likely heard the infamous phrase “kill your darlings”—a phrase associated with a variety of writers including Stephen King, William Faulkner, and Arthur Quiller-Couch.
In general, this phrase encourages writers to sacrifice beloved pieces of their work—characters, passages, plot lines—in order to improve the work as a whole. Sometimes your favorite side character has a wonderful personality, but no significance in the story to match. Such a character might be better left on the chopping block, or in a story of their own.
The editing process as a whole requires resilience, but it takes particular gumption to sacrifice the aspects of the story you might have once seen as the best. In my case, it often involves an internal battle followed by some sort of external confirmation that I’m not losing my mind if I completely rework my story.
But as soon as I embrace the idea of that sacrifice, I experience a high—as if I’m some sort of adrenaline junkie for cutting the work I’ve spent countless hours toiling over.
This counterintuitive euphoria arises because that sacrifice brings results. It’s not until I make the decision to cut a major element that I realize that major element held my story back, and now by cutting it I’ve unleashed a realm of potential.
Here’s an example:
This past week, I made the impulsive decision to cut a point of view character from my manuscript. These ideas usually sprout after I’ve already begun a process of editing: I find the courage to reduce the significance of one scene, and then completely cut another, and then next thing I know my major character never existed.
It’s a slippery slope with a surprisingly positive outcome.
I had considered cutting this character since the last time I cut a major character. That probably should have tipped me off that the sacrifice was necessary, but it still required a bit of deliberation before I went in full throttle and obliterated the poor character’s existence.
But as I said, in the world of writing, sacrifice brings results.
Removing that POV character allowed for a variety of improvements: my other POV character received more attention, I rewrote scenes from an active perspective as opposed to the perspective of the onlooker, and I finally met a goal word count because the character’s personal storyline and side characters bit the dust with her.
Despite the twinge of guilt I felt, it paid off.
If you are a writer, I wholeheartedly encourage you to embrace sacrifice. Whether you need to cut out a scene, kill off a character, or completely remove any proof of a character’s existence, it will probably improve your work as a whole. Sacrifices during the editing process help to streamline a story and reveal which aspects of that story really have significance to you.
This will make your story better.
You never know—if you’re anything like me, that major sacrifice to the editing process might be strangely thrilling.
What are your thoughts? Are sacrifices necessary? Should you find a way around them? Do you have any recent experience biting the bullet for the better good of your story?
I write YA fantasy and contemporary fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.