The Page a Day Writers Group

Kill Your Darlings

Posted on: March 14, 2010

“In writing, you must kill your darlings,” said William Faulkner.  As writers, we’ve heard this advice when it comes to editing our work.  We have to be willing to “get rid of” the prettiest of writing if it doesn’t move our stories forward.

But if you’re not into slaying, there may be other ways to beat your writing into submission through some editing advice by John Dufresne.  Dufresne is a funny, wonderful writer of  novels  such as Requiem, Mass. and Love Warps the Mind a Little.  He also wrote The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction.

In Dufresne’s guide to writing (and I’d like to argue not just for fiction but all creative writing), “Doing It Again (And Again [And Again]),  he gives practical tips on revision, which he points out means “seeing again.”  Here they are:

  1. Challenge every adverb.
  2. Challenge every adjective.
  3. Challenge every verb with an auxillary. Say “I kissed her” instead of “She was kissed by me.”
  4. Challenge the first paragraph.  Usually the first paragraph is an introduction to the action that happens in the second or third paragraph.  If this is the case, then start where the action is.
  5. Challenge the last paragraph.  Does the last paragraph merely summarize?  If so, say goodbye.
  6. Challenge every line you love (See “Kill your darlings.).
  7. Challenge every exclamation point.
  8. Challenge every use of the verb “to be.”
  9. Be alert for your pet words (or phrases).
  10. Be alert to your narrative weaknesses.  Are you spending too much time in your narrator’s head and ignoring the scene and place? Then recognize this and do something about it.
  11. Be alert to every cliche.
  12. Cut every nonessential dialogue tag.
  13. Eliminate everything you’re not sure of.
  14. Read the draft aloud.
  15. Proofread. For clarity, grammar, spelling, etc. and then do proofread again.

This is a start.  Dufresne points out that “Revision continues (in fact, we should probably say revisions-plural) until you feel you have done all you can to make the story as compelling and honest as possible. ”  So if that’s the case, go to the work of rewriting again and again and again and again…


Michelle Zive


2 Responses to "Kill Your Darlings"

Great tips Michelle! Becoming adept at revision is a skill that gets easier and less painful with time.

lovely advice mr dufresne, know its faulkners phrase, still helpful points

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Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!


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