Killing Your Darlings

It’s an often-given piece of advice in creative writing courses to “kill your darlings” if those elements get in the way of storytelling. What this means is that you might have to cut favorite lines, characters, plot points, and so forth for the betterment of the story as a whole.

Why would you ever do this?

Perhaps your favorite character in the piece needs to step back to let another, more intriguing character, tell this particular story. Maybe that fantastic line you wrote just doesn’t fit, or, the opposite, maybe all of the other lines need to meet the quality of that one.

I recommend saving each draft of your work separately (“draft one,” “draft two,” and so on) so that you can always revert to a saved draft and go a different way with a story or use one of those “darlings” later, should you choose to do so, possibly in a different project.

This adds a challenge to the writing process, sure, but where would we be if we did not take our work to the next level?

Think of it like rock climbing: you’ve got to let go of that last foothold to reach the next handhold.

There’s an interesting short article in by Forrest Wickman in which he ascribes the first mention of this advice (“murder your darlings”) to Arthur Quiller-Couch’s 1914 lecture, “On Style” as part of the “On the Art of Writing” lecture series at Cambridge. For the full article, please click this link:

Also, jumping ahead a century, now we can use tools like Track Changes in Microsoft Word to follow what we’ve deleted and added to our work, along with comparing changes between drafts. Use the tools available to you while following the age-old advice oft-repeated by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, and Anton Chekov.

Wickman, F. (2013) Who really said “kill your “darlings”? Retrieved from


About Em-dash Lady

Em-dash Lady enjoys creative writing most of all, but her interests include art forms from music to writing to visual art to indie films and so forth. She's especially interested in how the art forms influence each other and blend together. She's a creative writing teacher and writer who mostly writes memoir and poetry about her favorite activity, watching TV. I would say I'm kidding, but I'm not. Naps are also her favorite. Too many favorites to count! Enjoy following Em-dash Lady as she figures out how she fits in the ever-evolving world of art.
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