Both Faulkner and Twain have been given credit for the advice, “kill your darlings”, but in reality both probably said and practiced it. For us, it isn’t so important who said it as that we listen to it. There are a lot of ways to look at it. Does it mean you have to cull your best passages in the interest of word count or concision? Probably not. Does it mean be willing to cull those things which may not fit this particular piece but have worth or value for another piece or another time? More likely.
My best lesson in the art of kill your darlings came during grad school. I wrote a story, Murphy’s Meadow, which was a fantasy about a young man who struggled with the consequences of his actions. For almost a year, I wrote draft after draft of the piece watching it get better and better. I began to actually hope I could sell it. There was one huge problem with it. The story had morphed over those drafts and the opening fantasy scenes were juxtaposed against the harsh realism of the scenes that followed. My professor was quite frank. “The opening section has to go. The story actually begins here, with Thad’s jail intro.”
I loved my story’s fantastic beginning. My critique group loved that beginning. We fought this reality. By fight, I mean we revised and revised trying to force the fantasy part to work with the realism. I only set it aside to finish my thesis. When I finished grad school, I began looking at which stories were ready to submit. Murphy’s was one of the first because it was several drafts in. Reading it after months away proved my professor was right. I had to kill my darling. I cut those scenes and placed them in my “parking lot” for possible use in another story. Murphy’s Meadow became Branded in Gray and sold to the first journal I submitted it to.
“Killing my darlings” will never be my favorite thing to do. I won’t even pretend it isn’t painful. However, the payoff is more than worth it. What about you? Have you had to “kill your darlings?” Or are you clinging with your fingertips?