Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Murder? Not so fast

One of the popular cliches of graduate writing seminars is “murder your darlings.” This is the rule that guards against a writer becoming so emotionally attached to a scene that he or she keeps it in the manuscript even when it doesn’t belong. We’ve all done that, right? Written something that made us bounce in our chair, something that was so good that we had to keep it in the story, or change the story to make the scene fit? Well, that’s not good writing. All scenes should serve the purpose of the story, so if your amazing, wonderful scene doesn’t work, take it out.

That said, I’ve noticed that some people have taken this philosophy to extremes. To them, “murder your darlings” means that any piece of writing that you’re too emotionally attached to should be cut. I’m not sure why; maybe because they think they’ll never be able to judge it objectively. But I don’t agree with that.

The people who read and like your work like it because they share a good number of your sensibilities. If you absolutely love a scene, chances are they will too. So the last thing you want to do is make your work duller by cutting all the parts you really love. As I’ve written before, keep the scene in, rework it to fit the story if you can, and if it absolutely won’t fit, cut it.

But don’t murder it. Save it for later. You will write another story.

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