Killing my darlings

Kill your darlingsThe first time I heard this phrase, I had no idea what it meant. And now I can toss it around like any other seasoned writer.

Time & Regret is my third novel and having paid attention to some advice Emma Darwin offered on her blog, This Itch Of Writing, I’m in the midst of deleting the first eleven chapters of the story. Let me tell you, friends, eleven chapters represents a lot of time and effort, a lot of imagining, a lot of phrasing and rephrasing. But it has to be done.

Emma said the following:

One of the very first bits of clear writerly advice I ever came across was the short-story writer’s dictum of “Start as near the end as possible”. Later, I encountered the thriller-writer’s “Get in late and get out early”, which is a double-ended version of the same idea.


Emma’s advice came at just the right moment. With so many life events going on, I haven’t had time to write for months, but the niggling thought in the back of my mind whenever I considered Time & Regret was the need to pump up the drama. I had a few ideas but nothing had seemed right. With Emma’s post a lightbulb went on. She had nailed the problem.

So now I’m going through the first eleven chapters looking for bits that need to be woven into some other scene – character details, essential facts, a few lovely bits of description. The rest, I’m killing off. Rather invigorating I might add.

Thanks, Emma.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available in paperback from Amazon and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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16 Responses

    1. Never thought of it as an ‘inciting incident’, but I like that notion. Must be writers lingo 🙂

      This novel has a mystery built into it – and I wanted to dramatize that aspect from the beginning so readers know what kind of book it is. I have most of the story written, however, it needs a few more twists and turns to pump up the tension. I’m working on that as well as general stuff. This must be familiar for you, Rachel!

  1. Thanks for another great post Mary.Emma’s website is a goldmine of useful ideas for writers. It was painful when I cut the first three chapters of my second novel ‘The Shell’ but the book is much better – as it now starts much closer to the end!

  2. It’s been strange for me,but what I’ve killed always seems to resurrect in another story, sometimes as a prologue, other times as a chapter that finally fits. I view my dead darlings as the walking dead and I keep a candle in the crypt.

  3. I generally find that I write a lot of back story when I work my way into a chapter. I can cut most of that – sometimes pages worth. Some gets woven into other places in the chapter; much hits the cutting room floor. What you’re doing takes that idea to a whole new level, Mary. It didn’t occur to me that the first 11 chapters could be the parallel back story to what I cut in each chapter. Hmmm. Thanks.

  4. The timing couldn’t have been better for me, either. Realized recently that it’s a particular set of events I have to cut. Not chapters, but stuff woven through chapters… It’s a story line that doesn’t move the larger story along, and there are lots of words wasted on it. In the meantime, there is another story line I left out which needs to go in there, so I’m comforting myself with that- this storyline that’s coming out is a favorite historical connection. But it doesn’t belong in this book…

      1. I’ve revised this MS in large part before, and every time I dive in and do the work I am rewarded with better prose. That doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it, though! I really appreciated your post.

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