K is for killing

Sin#10: Not murdering your darlings

This is going to be a hard post. I’m writing without pause and I’m not going to go back and edit any part of it. Well, I will run it through a spell check and correct grammatical errors – after all I am a writer!

The point of this is to show how much crap a person writes in a first draft. Scratch that, how much crap a person writes in their first, second and third drafts. That’s not to say writing crap is a bad thing. As discussed yesterday, however briefly, having too much content in your initial drafts – even if the content is terrible – is better than having too little. The point of a first (second/third) draft is to get everything down on paper, empty your head of all the ideas bouncing around and dying to be written.


A good writer knows that in order to produce a decent finished product you need to murder your darlings. The term is attributed to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who published a series of lectures titled On the Art of Writing (1916).

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

The term refers to the concept of scrapping your best bits. Yep, you heard me – your best bits. The theory is that if there is a section of your writing you are particularly proud of then it will stand out like a sore thumb. This is not to say that your books are so terrible that a good bit will be so obvious it will tear the reader from the story, it means that just been proud doesn’t necessarily make it an excellent piece of writing. It’s more like removing writing which is self indulgent, in order to keep the story flowing in a way which the reader will enjoy. After all, with fiction books, it’s about the story not about the writing.

Of course the writing has to be good, crayon scrawled words might not cut it, but the story is king and the reader is unlikely to notice the writing style if they are truly engrossed in the story. A writer must be confident enough to cut portions of their work in order to make the whole a better piece.

It’s all about the end product.

EVERY story can be trimmed, there are NO exceptions.

Just to refer back to the beginning of the post there are some sections I really want to cut from this post but I won’t…*grumble grumble* stupid idiot trying to prove a point…


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    • C R Ward on April 13, 2011 at 23:35
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    What you say is all too true. I had a scene in a novel I was writing and it just about broke my heart when I had to cut it. It was probably one of the best things I'd ever written, and that's what made it just a little off. *sigh*

    • Jo Hill on April 14, 2011 at 10:43
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    This is interesting. I find that writing flash fiction is good practice. There is no room for indulgent writing if you have a tight word count and you want your story/idea to make sense! Like you say, though, the writing itself still has to be strong.

    • Jenny on April 14, 2011 at 12:33
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    Great post…I've had to learn this K lesson a few times. So true about the sore thumb!

    I came here via A to Z. You have a fun blog!

    • Jennifer Thomson on April 14, 2011 at 16:36
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    Having to do that just now. Sometimes I think this is too good to leave out, but other times I realise that I have in fact written over indulgent crap.

    If it doesn't move the story on, leave it out – even if it reads like Hemmingway (I wish).

    • ttofee on April 14, 2011 at 19:33
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    Killing is hard! But I agree with Jo – flash fiction is great for making you think about what you write.

    • Steven Chapman on April 15, 2011 at 10:56
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    I completely agree, flash makes it harder to keep the crap bits in…or the 'good' bits. You have to be ruthless in order to shape your story into a great finished product.

    Cheers for the comments, people!!

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