You know the situation. A beta reader or editor says a precious part of your book has to go. You resist, strenuously. They fix you with an unforgiving eye and say: ‘kill your darlings’.
Sometimes we resist a change for good reason. The character/scene/description/flashback/whatever might be needed. It explains something, or adds resonance, or fills a gap in the story, though perhaps it doesn’t yet do its job. That’s fixable.
We also resist changes that will cause a hot mess, though we’ll probably make them when we’ve mustered the courage.
Those aren’t darlings.
What are darlings?
Darlings are things we cling to, with especial defiance, when we shouldn’t. They’re anything we’re keeping mainly because we like them, not because they are necessary for the book.
We all do it. We’ll do it on our first book and yea unto our umpteenth.
So why are darlings such a blind spot? Here’s my theory, from experience at both ends of the editing sword. Darlings carry emotional baggage.
- We might keep a darling because it’s based on something personal.
- We might keep a darling that’s totally invented, but it took a long time to draft or edit and because of that investment, it’s going in the goddarned book.
But look at those reasons. Are they about the reader’s experience? Or are they about us, the writer?