Stephen King Says “Kill Your Darlings,” But I Say Wound Them, Too

Knife in the Heart

It’s a standard piece of writing advice echoed by Stephen King: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings.” In other words, don’t be so in love with a character or a scene or a line of dialogue or a setting that you can’t axe it when you have to.

Sometimes great characters do nothing to motivate the characters around them. Sometimes great scenes and awesome lines of dialogue slow things down or don’t fit right or don’t make sense to your beta readers (and you should listen to your beta readers). Good writing is also good editing, and you need to learn to do it even if it breaks your damn heart.

In my first full-length novel, I had planned a wonderful chapter where the girl and the guy finally, after a long delay (imposed by others due to strictures of culture), finally get together. I’d written this elaborate scene with a thousand twinkling gemstones lit by candlelight deep in the heart of a mine where he’d created this romantic boudoir, the wine, the seduction, the consummation and culmination. Oh, it was beautiful and sexy and sooooo terribly romantic.

And so goddamn predictable. Of course they were going to get together. You could tell from the moment they met that they were two halves of a whole, relating on a whole different level than other people do (quite literally – it’s a sci-fi thing and there were special circumstances).

I read it through and I thought to myself – what if it didn’t happen? What if something kept them from that consummation? Not just delayed them – I mean came down like a stone wall and made it impossible for them to be together? Oh, God, it was like a knife in my chest while I wrote it. And in the end, it put some badly needed tension into the book at just the right time, and it completely altered who I had planned to be the villain of the story. I had to rewrite the entire ending.

And it was better. It all worked so much better.

So grievously wound your darlings. You’ll be glad you did, even if you’re sobbing while you do it.

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