Monday, September 8, 2008

Don't Kill Her, Chop Her Legs Off

You don’t always need to kill your darling, sometimes you need to chop off her legs. I chopped off the legs of mine—and lost 3000 words of manuscript. Now the plot can move forward.

If you ever killed or seriously wounded your darling, you know the pain involved. I still mourn the loss of that beautiful chapter written in my darling’s point of view, knowing all along it fouled up the plot.

And if you are one of those who refuse to admit you have a darling, trust me, you do. We all have that character or scene in our manuscript that, in our most humble opinion, is the best writing on the planet—bar none. To cut it would cheat the world of its beauty, never mind that it contributes nothing to the story line.

But our darlings can go farther than not adding to our story—they can take away, and they can take over.

I wasn’t the only one that fell in love with my darling. Every critique partner that read of the old, countrified woman with this rich, marvelous voice and manner, fell in love with her, yet she grew stronger than my protagonist. As written, she became story interruptus. She enriched the story, yet the early scene in her point of view became another book. So I agonized for days, weeks even—spending hours trying to work around it, knowing all along I couldn’t kill her. I finally admitted to myself, with advice from a trusted mentor that I must figuratively chop off her legs.

So, instead of killing my darling, I corralled her. I cut the two chapters in her point of view and revised the manuscript, letting my protagonist carry the plot, yet still maintained my darling’s personality and manner of speech, allowing her to remain the same strong character we had all fallen in love with.

So, sometimes you must kill your darling, and other times, you can chop her legs off, and still let her live in all her glory.


Sylvia Dickey Smith




  1. What a nice compromise for everyone including "Darling"! LOL.

    Welcome aboard, Sylvia. Look forward to more great writing tips from you.


  2. Ohhhh, the pain of killing a darling. Sniff. I love your writing, Sylvia, can't imagine you having to kill off a darling.

  3. Loved your article and your style of writing. Looking forward to more.

    The Texas

  4. Yeah, and I just killed another--darn for forward movement!! Hey, I have a great idea, why don't we publish a book featuring our darlings--we could paste big red hearts between each! I bet we'd sell a million books!

    Well, at least those whose darlings were in the book--at the very least!

  5. I hate to chop anything from my manuscripts because it takes me so long to get it down.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. You could make it one of those Naked Came the.... Darlings books. Each chapter would be a new author and a new darling. Could be a disastrous piece of fun!


  7. Sylvia,
    I like the "darlings" book idea.:-) Every author would have something to contribute, I'm sure.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.