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Scott Lax Blog

The Meaning of "Murder Your Darlings"

There's an expression that's bandied about at writing classes and other literary gatherings. It's this: "Murder your darlings." It's often misunderstood and misquoted (its bogus variations are many and often funny), but that's the quotation, according to The Paris Review's THE WRITER'S CHAPBOOK.

The author of that quote is G.K.Chesterton. Here's what it means to me: the parts of your writing that you fall in love with are the very same things you might want to sleep on, or consider for a longer while, before you leave them in. They're often overly emotional, or sentimental, or clever, or snarky words; or any number of things that don't serve the writing, the story. You may be over-explaining in a way that you think is elegant and brilliant, but that bogs down the story and insults the reader's intelligence by essentially providing an intellectual spoiler -- by telling your reader what to think.

If you write a sentence that you think is brilliant or witty or wise, but it doesn't serve the story, cut it...murder it, in other words. You can always save your darling on the shelf, in a computer file, or a notebook or stack of scrap paper. But get rid of it in your creative writing.

So there you go. The answer to one of the most misunderstood quotations in English literature. It doesn't refer to killing off characters, or any other weird interpretations. It's simply looking at that in your writing that you have fallen in love with, and asking yourself if it really needs to be there, or if you just like the sound of it. Or worse, if you're showing off, for any reason: your knowledge, your wit, your unique perspective.

Since I bash Twitter on a regular basis, I'll relate it to Twitter: Ninety-eight percent of what is on Twitter is "darling" writing. It ought to be cut, or never published, or relegated to one's diary, where it can rest comfortably, away from the eyes of an increasingly illiterate and overly-accepting reading public. "I had eight big fatty pieces of bacon today!" isn't literature; it's bad writing. And bad eating.  Read More