Spoiled Darlings

It's awfully confusing to hear, “Write what you love,” in the same breath as “Kill your darlings." Taken literally, I’m supposed to love my work and then slaughter anything I love. Jeez, no wonder this industry is so hard to break into - it doesn’t even know what it wants.

For me there are concepts and characters that I love and I would rather kill a manuscript than strike them down (see also: Stupid Hill). On the other hand, I know there are darlings that can spoil so rotten that they ruin the good things in a story.

How does one know what these spoiled darlings are? After all, our words are like our offspring and we can easily be blinded and miss the fact that we’re raising a real stinker. The following list is just some of the red flags I look out for in my own work.

I’ve got a spoiled darling on my hands when
  • I’m bending over backwards to make a scene work around a specific line or paragraph, instead of changing the wording to make it fit with the scene.
  • I'm writing longer dialogue or extra scenes simply because I like the character so much or I want to explain a cool concept/technology/theory just because it’s cool.
  • I'm repeating the same excuse when the forth critiquer asks me about the story’s need for XX or YY.
  • I'm cutting and pasting a scene in a few different places in the manuscript and it works no where.

What are some indications of a dirty, rotten darling that you’ve noticed?


The sense of dread and guilt while writing something that a part of my soul knows but is unwilling to admit won't ultimately end up in the final.

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