Thursday, June 16, 2011

Interpreting E B

Question: How do you interpret what EB White says about "Kill your darlings"-- both what he directly meant and what it means to you, if different?



Doug said...

He said "Murder your darlings"

It means that if a piece of writing is not working in your story, even if you love it, it must be editted out.

Julie Harrington said...

Yep. Something can be beautifully written and amazing, but if it doesn't really fit or work or add anything... out it goes.


Bren said...

I disagree with EB. I never kill my darlings. Good stuff is good stuff even when it doesn’t enhance the story I’m writing at the moment.

When I fall in love with characters, l look for ways to make them work in the current WIP. If I can’t find any, I relocate my darlings, usually to a short story, although some find homes in the plans for future books. When I become attached to a paragraph or a clever description, I toss it into the inspirational trunk to wait for the perfect home.

Edittorrent said...

I think it means something a bit different. I think it means you have to learn to be objective about your writing in every aspect. If something becomes your "darling," you lose perspective and the work suffers.

I've seen it over and over again -- the "darlings" are almost always the parts that damage the story the most, and yet the writer clings to these pieces. So yes, murder them in the sense that the bad ones must be eliminated. But also kill them in the sense that you must cultivate objectivity.


Adrian said...

I'm not sure which interpretation I agree with, but I can think of at least another one.

"Darlings" could be those bits that are too clever and thus stand out from the rest of the work. The distract from the work because the "how it's said" becomes more important that "what is said." Yet you want cling to them because you appreciate the cleverness. They have to go because they detract from the work.

green_knight said...

My personal interpretation is that nothing is sacred - if I can make the story better without it, it has to go. On the other hand, I have a strong sense of characters and events that are irrevocably part of the story (my writing metaphor is that I am a chronicler - sometimes, like a historian, I get things wrong and need to reeimagine and reinterpret motivations and change my account of events, but some things are recorded beyond doubt, and they will have to be in the story. I can't, for instance, combine two characters into one.

As for clever turns of phrase, there are times when I want to preserve them for prosperity, but most of the time, I am confident that I will be able to write the same level or better, so if something doesn't work, I'll delete it rather than keeping it around.

Edittorrent said...

Bren, love the "relocate your darlings" method! I think you're right. There's a place for darlings, but maybe it's not in this story.

I have found that we often cling to scenes or lines or events that came to us in a "white heat," almost inspired, and I think it's because the experience was so miraculous that we can't really see the "darling" in context of the story. And we resist rather strenuously when an outsider (a critiquer, maybe) says it doesn't fit. How can it not fit, when it was a miracle?

But maybe "relocating" will work better than "murdering". "This scene is so good, it deserves a new book of its very own!" :)

Miles said...

The "murder your darlings" quote comes from Arthur Quiller-Couch, not EB White.

It shouldn't need much interpretation. Here's the source:

"Style, for example, is not—can never be—extraneous Ornament. ... Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings."

I think it could be boiled down to something like, get rid of whatever the things are in your writing that you feel most smug about, stylistically.

Thomas Sharkey said...

I believe this is aimed at not allowing your character to become "more than perfect".
A character that the reader can relate to is a character who makes mistakes and admits to them (sometimes).
Nobody is "perfect".

Re: Mary Sue and Gary Stu.


Edittorrent said...

Miles, the quote can also be attributed to Twain, Faulkner, and others. But yes, Quiller-Couch also said it. It's a popular phrase, apparently.