What does “kill your darlings” really mean?

One of the most famous pieces of writing advice is William Faulkner’s, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Though creative processes are highly subjective, this is one of the core pieces of editing advice that everyone seems to agree on.

To kill one’s darlings is to cut out elements of your manuscript that you love which may not be working for your book as a whole. This isn’t always easy, since, as writers, we can get a little blinded by our work. When you’ve spent so long on a project, it’s easy to point to part of it and say it’s essential, when in reality, the manuscript might be stronger without it.

Examples of “darlings”

 The darling you kill doesn’t have to be so literal—you don’t need to go through your manuscript and kill off every character that you like (though many writers go that route). Here are a few more darlings that you can look into murdering:

Purple prose

Everyone likes description—it’s part of what helps us readers slip into a story. But when the prose becomes too flowery, and the “rainy day” becomes “a day plagued by the hazardous, smattering drops of rain, so persistent in their dreary descension that one might think that the great god Zeus was crying vengeful tears”—that might be a darling you have to kill.

Your favorite scene

In the musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda cut the song “Congratulations,” from the Broadway show. Though some fans were sad to see Angelica’s angry reaction to the Reynolds Pamphlet cut, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s response shows that great things have to be given up for the betterment of the work as a whole.