Little Darlings & Why They Must Die…for REAL

Remember me?

Almost any of us who decided one day to get serious about our writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. Great book, if you haven’t read it. But one thing King tells us we writers must be willing to do, is that we must be willing to, “Kill the little darlings.”

Now, King was not the first to give this advice. He actually got the idea from Faulkner, but I guess we just took it more seriously when King said it…because now the darlings would die by a hatchet, be buried in a cursed Indian flash drive where they would come back as really bad novels.

…oops, I digress.

Little darlings are those favorite bits of prose, description, dialogue or even characters that really add nothing to the forward momentum or development of the plot. To be great writers, we must learn to look honestly at all little darlings. Why? Because they are usually masking critical flaws in the overall plot.

Right now I am almost through Act II of my novel and I can already see the little darlings in Act I that need to go. Fortunately, I’ve been through this enough times to kill with ruthless efficiency.

But why are little darlings so dangerous?

Because th-they come back….but *shivers* they are…different.

Let me explain why it is important to let go.

Hazard #1—Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Drama is created when a writer has good characterization that meets with good conflict. The characters’ agendas, secrets and insecurities collide.

As Les mentioned in his lesson about dialogue, subtext is vital. It’s more than what’s said. This can only happen when 3-D characters meet with real baggage that gets in the way of solving a CORE STORY PROBLEM.

There is a scene in my current book where the protagonist becomes angry and hurt by the FBI agent trying to help her. Did the agent do anything wrong? No. But his behavior reminded her of her ex (the antagonist) and that ignited an unhealed hurt/insecurity inside my protagonist.

As is happens in life, we sometimes strike out at others not because of what they did or didn’t do, rather we are punishing them for unhealed wounds from our past often inflicted by other people. If my protagonist is pushing away the one person there to help her, she is five steps back from solving the core plot problem that’s upended her life.


Hazard #2—Mistaking Complexity for Conflict

Complexity is easily mistaken for conflict. I witness this pitfall in most new novels. I teach at a lot of conferences, and, in between my sessions, I like to talk new and hopeful writers. I often ask them what their books are about and the conversation generally sounds a bit like this:

Me: What’s your book about?

Writer: Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a vampire and he’s actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

Me: Huh? Okay. Who is the antagonist?

Writer: *blank stare*

Me: What is her goal?

Writer: Um. To find out who she is?

Most new novels don’t have a singular core story problem. It is my opinion that baby writers, deep down, know they’re missing the backbone to their story—A CORE STORY PROBLEM IN NEED OF RESOLUTION. Without a core story problem, conflict is impossible to generate, and the close counterfeit “melodrama” will slither in and take its place.

I believe when we are new writers, we sense our mistake on a sub-conscious level, and that is why our plots grow more and more and more complicated.

When we fail to have a core story problem, often we resort to trying to fix the structural issue with Bond-o putty and duct tape and then hoping no one will notice. How do I know this?

I used to own stock in Plot Bond-o :D.

The problem is, “complicated” is not conflict. 

We can create an interstellar conspiracy, birth an entirely new underground spy network, resurrect a dead sibling who in reality was sold off at birth, or even start the Second Civil War to cover up the space alien invasion…but it ain’t conflict. Interstellar war, guerilla attacks, or evil twins coming back to life can be the BACKDROP for conflict, but alone are not conflict.

And, yes, I learned this lesson the hard way. Most of us do. This is all part of the author learning curve, so don’t fret and just keep writing and learning.

Little darlings are often birthed from us getting too complicated. We frequently get too complicated when we are trying to b.s. our way through something we don’t understand and hope works itself out.

Um, it won’t.

Tried it. Just painted myself into a corner. But we add more players trying to hide our errors and then we risk falling so in love with our own cleverness—the subplots, the twist endings, the evil twin—that we can sabotage our entire story.

I sincerely believe these little darlings are like fluffy beds of leaves covering punji pits of writing death. “Complicated” is the child of confusion, whereas “complexity” is the offspring of simplicity.

Be truthful. Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave? We put our craftiest work into buttressing our errors, so I would highly recommend taking a critical look at the favorite parts of your manuscript and then get real honest about why they’re there. Make the hard decisions, then kill them dead and bury your pets little darlings for real.

You have rewritten me 14 times. You think I’m going to leave without a fight? Hssssssss.

So what do you do with your little darlings? What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips, tools or tactics to help us dispose of the bodies?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!


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  1. I find it easier to kill my darlings, those favorite little bits of conversation, the terrific scenes that don’t belong, if I stick them in a cuts file. It’s like I trick myself into thinking they’re still safe–I can bring them back in anytime if I want to, or I can resurrect them and adjust for another book down the road if I decide I need to. And once or twice I *have* actually resurrected my scene and used it with some changes, but usually not.

    But the scene still exists, so it’s okay to cut it now and see if the book works as well or better without it. It’s all in my head. =)

    1. Oooh, that just might work for me. Thanks for the idea!

      1. Yes! I have a huge folder called ‘Outtakes’. Sometimes it contains scenes I need to know as the writer, so those bits are life reference material. But most of the time they are just scenes and chapters I contrived to cover something that wasn’t quite… right.

        1. My folder is called “Deleted Scenes” 🙂

            • acflory on April 19, 2013 at 6:38 am

            Deleted but not really forgotten. 🙂

  2. I am a photographer who enjoys writing, but who has a son who aspires to be a writer. I had never hear of little darlings or the reference from Faulkner. Your blog post title today made me take notice of “little darlings” again. This is my son’s way of dealing with his little darlings. (from his blog

    Undying Darlings — Excerpt From An Old Project — Part II
    Utah, Desert

    “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” — Faulkner (obviously unaware of the advent of blogging)

    It is true –a large part of writing is ridding yourself of unnecessary material. Sometimes this is easy. Sometimes this is really hard. Maybe you’re just too close to the words and the scene. Maybe you had high expectations and are overcome by denial, slow to admit that whatever it is, it just isn’t cutting it in your larger work. Maybe you just overwrote the hell out of it. Anyway, because I have trouble letting go, rather than killing my darlings outright, I decided I would ‘zombify’ them here –sentence them to roam the archives of cyberspace without aim or drive or any hopes of change. I’d rather see them in the light of this mediocre immortality than never see them again. Hear them moan and treat them kindly. Who knows? There may be souls within them yet.

  3. I loved On Writing. Awesome, blunt stuff! 😀 Your description of the FBI agent and your protagonist reminds me of the 2 main characters of Dean Koontz’s By The Light of the Moon. I loved how their initial conversation shows how much they clashed and you don’t really find out why until half the book later when she explains what a monster her father was.

    When I kill my darlings (probably not as much a bloodbath as it should be yet), I put them in a seperate file label, “Cut but usable edits.” I’ll probably never look in there again, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve actually “killed” them. 😀

  4. I’m a novice writer, so I sometimes don’t notice that a passage is a little darling until someone points it out. So until the muscles of self-critique are better developed, I utilize a few friends who are willing to tell me the unvarnished truth. When they do, I look at what is appealing about the darling, and see if there is a place for what does work about it. If there is, I rework it. If not, I chuck it.

    On the rare occasion that I can’t bring myself to hit the delete button, I’ll put the section in the comments section of the document and look at it a day or two later. I usually find that gives me enough emotional space to consign the passage to the ether without any further drama.

  5. So true, and so hard! It’s difficult to kill the darlings. 😀

  6. Most of my early writing attempts ending up succumbing to this problem: after finding that I was unable to move the story along, I would introduce more and more elements until the thing just collapsed under its own weight.

    Excellent article, as always. I just wish I’d read it about four years ago 😉

    • annerallen on April 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm
    • Reply

    “Do not mistake complexity for conflict” I wish I’d understood that a little earlier in my career. I’m now trying to repair a novel I wrote over a decade ago that is all decoration and no cake. I veer from the central conflict so often, nobody remembers the plot. I’ve discovered it’s actually a trilogy, but I’ll still have to kill a lot of melodramatic darlings to make them readable. Great advice as always, Kristen!

  7. Excellent post, Kristen. I’m currently in the process of restructuring my plot, having hit a snag at the 30% mark. I sweep up all the cuts and save them in a separate word doc so I can refer to them for future works where they might have a place. Often the cuts spur good plot ideas for new novels.

  8. On advice from a friend, I recently picked up King’s “On Writing” and am about 2/3rds through it. Your post rings in my head like the Bells of St Mary’s. I know I need to rethink my core conflict. However, trying to insert it without starting over is my current dilemma. I keep thinking it can be done. I’m trying to figure out the best approach.

  9. I really have to read King’s book. No idea why I’ve put it off, but I’m getting it today. Thanks for the reminder. Great post. You always make me think, Kristen.

  10. Loved this post Kristen. I recently read King’s book “On Writing” and loved it. Of all the advice he gives in the book, “kill the little darlings” has to be the hardest to execute (LOL). I’m almost done with my next book: We Are Not Alone, maybe you’ve heard of it 😉 I’m realy enjoying it, by the way. Thanks for writing it.

  11. King’s book is a great read–and reread. I go back to it every couple of years just to hear his voice in my writer’s ear. One other gem in his book that he got from an early editor is Rough Draft less 10% equals Final Draft.

    • Lin Barrett on April 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm
    • Reply

    I culled my darlings, but instead of block + backspace, I culled them into a separate file. After a time, I looked at it again … and there was really nothing in there worth keeping. I block + backspace now. With a pang, but I still kill ’em.

  12. Yep, we all write deathless prose. We all need someone around us with a BS horn to read the ms. and call us on our slips. You’d be surprised where you find them. They’ll tell you when you’ve fallen in love with a voice or plot device. I recommend Big Steve’s book and Starting From Scratch by Rita Mae Brown.

  13. Well, while I see the point, I think some darlings are…darling. I like a very complicated story line. I suppose the ones leading to no where need to go. Ugh! don’t even think of suggesting I rewrite this one more time lol.

    • Carol Newquist on April 18, 2013 at 1:58 pm
    • Reply

    Well, I don’t want to be Stephen King, so I probably won’t be reading his book. If I read all these self-help books, I won’t ever write my own. Plus, I’d rather do other things with my spare time in order to gain some balance and perspective in my life and further fodder for my imagination. For now, I’ll have to take my chances that some will like the Little Darlings if and when they present.

    FYI, I am not a Stephen King fan and I never found him an inspiring writer. He’s good, no doubt. He’s imaginative, for certain. But in my opinion, his writing is not spectacular by any means. He found a groove and worked it. He comes off as a broken record now. Does he talk about broken records in his book? If not, he should in the amended addition.

    1. Carol, I’m not a King fan either, way too many expletives for my taste. But On Writing is still a fantastic read for anyone interested in the craft. He doesn’t tell you how to write his way (though he will go into why his creative mind works the way it does), but he just tells you simply how to write. You don’t have to read the whole thing either (i.e. the parts where he shows how his mind ticks as a writer). He devotes quite a lot of simple basics which we sometimes tend to forget.

      I’m going to have to re-read it soon myself… 😀

        • Carol Newquist on April 18, 2013 at 3:09 pm
        • Reply

        Well, I don’t want to dissuade anyone from reading what they want to read. Maybe I’ll read it someday. Probably not; I’ve never gone for these types of things. I get inspired by other authors, don’t get me wrong, just not other authors talking about their journey. I like to read their works. That’s how I’ve learned to write, and it’s how I will continue to learn to write. Well, there’s that and there’s a vivid imagination and a compulsion to write.

  14. I feel like we got off on a tangent with Hazard 1– and I mention it because it’s such a big problem of mine, and I’d really like your advice on it.

    I tend towards the melodramatic, I’ve been told, but I’m one of those people who has a hard time really distinguishing the two. At it’s heart and core, what really is the difference between real, honest-to-God drama, and melodrama? How do you tell them apart? And do you have any advice for how to effectively zap those particular darlings to the Great Beyond?

  15. The first “book” I wrote and actually put out on the net for free, had so many mistakes and errors that I am still surprised people liked it.

    I would have my main characters who were all traveling together, then have cut scenes involving another group of characters in another location, the second group would be dealing with aspects of the main plot that the main characters did not.

    Then I had the antagonist and his henchmen, who interacted with both of these groups as they slowly came together. Then not satisfied with muddy waters I added yet another group who appeared as a series of cut scenes fleshing out the main plot. And through all this I had bit characters that would appear, play their parts and vanish again. It was literally a cast of hundreds.

    It was busy, and it never occurred to me that readers might have trouble keeping track of who was in what group and what they were doing.

    In addition I discovered some readers got attached to characters that were never meant to be long term characters, and were disappointed when said character had played his or her part and was only mentioned in passing through the rest of the story.

    And all this was before I even started looking at all the Grammar mistakes, thankfully there are no real Grammar police or I would be facing a life sentence of English 101.

    In the end the thing turned into a 1,664,042 word 600 some odd page story, written over three months, followed by a longer sequel with less mistakes, written over a slightly longer time frame, and around 15 associated short stories. And what Ive learned is that writing does not make a person a writer. LOL. only practice and persistence will get you there, and I am still climbing that cliff.

    But I have to add this, I love those stories, and the characters in them. And truly hope one day to learn enough to go back and clean them up and make them shine like they deserve.

    sorry for the long response.


    • Carol Newquist on April 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm
    • Reply

    Writing is personally stylized, and those personal styles are going to appeal to some, and turn others off. As Les says, there is no one size fits all. What I’m getting at is, if we become so self-conscious of everything we write, then we run the risk of crushing our muse. I don’t want to run the that risk.

    Both my wife and I enjoy great, descriptive writing, even when it’s about something that doesn’t necessarily further the plot. It adds a certain richness that we love to savor and mull. In my novel, I describe a scene that serves no purpose in furthering the plot, at least not in any direct sense, but it’s highly descriptive and entertaining, and gives the reader a greater sense of the psyche of the protagonist. Also, it helps to endear the reader to the protagonist, and other characters as well.

    Here is the example from my novel, Suddenly, Last Summer. It brings a benign event to life. This is what I love most about writing. Yes, of course, I love plot too, but turning an otherwise mundane event/behavior/observation into high-definition by the skillful manipulation of words on paper/screen, is truly magical.

    “The bedroom was a tomb, cold and dark, and the sleep machine filled it with the sound of bacteria hard at work amplified a million times. You do not jar Gwen awake. She must be gently roused with a slight wiggle of the toe, and a languid “it’s time to get up.” If you are abrupt with her in any way, you’ll pay dearly for your transgression. Think Lorena Bobbitt on Angel Dust (PCP). Over the years, I perfected a method of rousing her without losing my penis and I employed that tried and true method before exiting the room.”

    1. Carol, I so agree with you, except in one respect: you say the example above doesn’t further the plot, but, oh boy, it DOES further the story, in that, as you said, it “gives the reader a greater sense of the psyche of the protagonist. Also, it helps to endear the reader to the protagonist, and other characters as well.” That is just as, if not more important than clipped sentences and lots of dialogue and action.
      Of course, I love flowery prose…I’d way rather read Isabelle Allende than Stephen King (who I think, well, kinda sucks. Just my opinion, but there you go!)

    • Borednicole on April 18, 2013 at 2:25 pm
    • Reply

    First, I love “On Writing”. Not only filled with great tips but highly entertaining. I read it when it first came out then recently purchased it on Audible and listen to it for inspiration and laughs.

    Those “little darlings” King and Faulkner speak of, usually end up being things that don’t advance your story and only serve to entertain you…the writer. But if you’re writing with the hopes of entertaining others, kill the little darlings.

  16. When I was in high school I was torn between wanting to be a world renowned photojournalist or a acclaimed story teller. So I took both creative writing and journalism. The beauty of journalism is that it teaches you to strip the story to its bare bones. Just the facts,Ma’am.

    By first applying this to your work you can deep six the little darlings before they even appear. Then flesh the story out.

    Thoughtful post.

      • Borednicole on April 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm
      • Reply

      Screenwriting is another form of writing that requires “bare bones” storytelling. 🙂

      1. And poetry is journalism with a soul! (assuming you’re a bare bones poet, which I am!)

  17. Your posts have been a great help to me, Kristen. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with the idea of taking out a character that I know deep inside is expendable to the plot of my story…Such a hard thing to do when I’ve invested so much time in her!

  18. I’m back in school at the age of 54, determined to be the writer I wanted to be when I graduated from Fashion School at 25. Right now it’s only two classes, but I LOVE it. I must say though, that this experience has taught me that one persons little darling is another’s way of furthering the story. there are so many styles of writing out there, some that appeal to us, some that don’t. I love the idea of a culled file, because, there are times when those little darlings need to find their way back into the story.

    • Diana Stevan on April 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm
    • Reply

    Great post, Kristin. I’m in the process of revisions yet again. And your section on complexity is not conflict hit home. Thank you.

  19. Recently my agent asked me to cut a character from my novel. The woman is a secondary character, a mother-in-law to be exact, so ordinarily cutting the little darling wouldn’t be so hard, but Diane York is a character that ends up tearing my hero and heroine apart. She might be secondary, but in the original version of this story, the woman wreaks havoc and has a lot of page time, even her own POV, so when Nicole asked me to cut her scenes entirely I got a little woozy,
    But, and this is a big jiggly BUT, my agent is totally right.
    I was choosing the easy way to break my hero/heroine apart, the cliche way, the uninspired route.
    Plus, as I well know (but obviously needed reminding) an author should make the conflict about the characters, about their goals and motivations and backgrounds, rather than just the events thrown at them.
    So I’m working hard toward that end, and your mini lesson here helped even further!!
    Thank you!
    Have a great evening,

    1. ooooohhh… Tamara…
      That was a good insight!

      1. Pamela, you’re so sweet!!! Thanks dear 🙂
        Hope to see you this weekend!!!

  20. Absolutely the key to the core story I have been struggling with! It is already in there (in my first draft), but now I realize that I must play it up and weave that thread throughout the entire story.
    I have been following your blog for several months now and have shared some of your words of sage advice with my critique groups. Always well-written and important – not just a fluffy blog for the sake of blogging!
    Keep up the great work.

  21. It’s funny how you have days where it’s like, “Ok, Universe, I get it! Today is a life lesson day!” Well I think today has been a Writing Lesson day. I went to the library to bum around today and came across Writers Magazine. In it was another author sharing this advice, only instead of darlings, he called them dinosaurs – as in we need to make them extinct. So I had this message drilled in today and then I read another article about journaling to better know our writing selves and then I read August’s blog about writing and managing social media which was all about balance! I’m feeling overwhelmed and yet more focused and energetic than I have in awhile! Thanks for the writing tips, Kristen! Off to do some journaling and plot structuring!

  22. I still struggle with the “little darlings” concept. I do not write any scenes or characters or conversations that I do not need. I make it a key point to avoid melodrama, and I know exactly what my characters want and what the conflict is.

    So, I don’t know if my books have little darlings that need cutting.

    If I do come up with some clever bit in the course of what I am doing, it seems more like something I am *supposed* to be doing, not something I am supposed to be cutting. I mean, aren’t we supposed to make the book good? Purple prose might be a bad thing, but Plain Jane can’t be the goal either.

    1. I have some segments that are highly entertaining, but they are doing more to entertain than advance the plot, so can become distractions. I had Les Edgerton look at my Chapter One and he cut half of it. He said the dialogue was hysterical (I am really good at dialogue) but it actually slowed down the plot. When I looked? He was right. I’m sad to cut the darlings. I might rework some of the content in later where it DOES make sense, but as funny as those parts are? They need to go. Beta readers can be very helpful in this since we tend to be too close.

      1. Very interesting. This sounds like something I’d have to have an objective expert on the matter look for, because I don’t think I’m able to see them. Maybe if someone spotted some in my work, I’d be able to get a better feel for what to look for in my own tendencies. Simultaneously, I’d be mortified at said expert slashing ‘the precious’


        I haven’t had any complaints in my Amazon reviews so far, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there =)

        thanks Kristen

  23. Hi Kristen. We’re on the same wave length. I just wrote a post about Stephen King’s ON WRITING on my blog (April 10), with a slightly different take, of course (Got Talent? Plot Not!). And the post I’m working on for this week is actually showing one of the scenes I am forced to kill (one I really, really like) because it doesn’t advance my story. Both were conceived and written before I read your post. I love when this happens. Keep up the good work.

  24. Oh, heck. The only “blog” I have is a few pages of my work. I’ll post you there anyway! 😀

    I’m new enough that I’m not sure what my personal “Little Darlings” are. I will say this, though: I’ve been at work for 8+ years on my first novel because as a mom, I found I have the hardest time allowing my main character (a twelve year old boy) to be attacked.

    There’s a new one for you, I’ll bet! 😀

  25. I’m inspired to be a bit brutal with my writing now. I know it’s for the better, but it is difficult. Thanks for the post and opening my eyes to these “little darlings” I’ll need to push off of a cliff!

  26. Really excellent advice. I am just beginning to see the little darlings appear in the book I am working on now. Best to kill them off now before I start to love them too much. They are already twisting my plot line.

  27. Great post. It gave me the shivers and now I’m going to grab my hatchet and go hunting.

  28. During revision, I realised an entire chapter of my wip was a darling. It was an aside, a complete story in itself and had very little relation to the rest of the book. And taking it out meant a couple of tweaks to remove references to events therein and that was all – that was the giveaway. I wrote a much better chapter in its place, one that actually has knock-on consequences. Happy.

  29. Kristen, I have read this post before in other incarnations, but I’m always left with the same struggle. I’ve finished draft eleventy-two of my novel, and I seriously cannot tell which scenes need to go. The manuscript is in Amber West’s hands now. i helped her with her book, and I’m hoping she can give me the same kind of concrit. I’m afraid of cutting something wonderful. It’s like a painting. How do we know if we’re over-working it, or doing damage to something. Is there a question you ask yourself to help you figure out what to chop? And what to keep?

      • Carol Newquist on April 19, 2013 at 6:56 am
      • Reply

      I think the Admiral asks the most important questions as they relate to Little Darlings. Sometimes I wonder in this novel that is life, if there is an author, are we scheduled to be carved out because we’ve become a Little Darling that must be eliminated, for real. Something to consider.

      1. Hahahaha! So funny! Thanks Carol! 😉

  30. Great post Kristen. I had to remove 5 darlings from my Bigfoot novel. Only one was actually what I thought was a darling and still to this day I think it was pertinent to my novel as it showed just how dumb my lead characters were, but my editor said their drunken dialog didn’t push the story forward so I removed it and now it fits as a snug as a bug in Bigfoot part 2, reworked. Can a writer have a seen that doesn’t push the story forward? What I mean is can a writer have a seen that slows the mad rush of action and gives the reader a pause for breath before the action continues. That’s how I perceive little darlings.

  31. I’ve killed off a lot of little darlings in my debut novel, but I am sure that there are some that could still go. Very hard to kill the one’s you love but I’ve learned to have murder in my heart when I edit the manuscript for the first time. Thanks for the insightful article. I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

  32. For me, the hardest darlings to kill are the ones that inspire stories. A phrase, an incident, a title, that piece of grit that the pearl of a story forms around. Because it’s so integral to how I’ve grown the story, I find it hard to recognise that sometimes the characters and events have outgrown that one pithy phrase, and it has to be let go.

    And thanks for the distinction between complexity and conflict. It’s one of those things where, now you’ve said it, it seems so obvious, but I would never had defined it so well for myself.

    • Carol Newquist on April 19, 2013 at 7:32 am
    • Reply

    A great example of a book loaded to the gills with Little Darlings is Barbara Kingsolver’s La Lacuna. Here’s a link to a review of it:

    Yes, it wasn’t the Poisonwood Bible, but I didn’t want it to be. I don’t appreciate formula writing, and I’m happy Kingsolver didn’t fall into that trap. The comments at that link are the best part, and I share many of the sentiments. I liked the novel because it took me to another place that was not HERE. A well written book does that for me. This book did that despite its multitudes of endearing and enticing Little Darlings.

    Of course, Kingsolver is an accomplished author and she can break all the rules, but that’s not the point. The point is, there are readers, and they are not necessarily few, who like Little Darlings and complexity so long as it is weaved in an interesting and vibrant tapestry that is a story without undermining it entirely. Babedarla, my wife and I are but a few. There are more, but they’re afraid to admit it because IRL they choose to avoid conflict.

    I like some flaws, perhaps because I’ve never been fond of Barbie. She’s so perfect she’s hideous. Perfect doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t inspire me. It doesn’t touch me. I’m weird, I know, but I like a good story permeated with a smörgåsbord of scrumptiously paneed peccadilloes.

  33. Hi Kristen,
    I love the answer to ‘what is the book about?’. Makes me laugh and cringe at the same time as I can hear myself talking! I’m at the critical stage of reviewing my first draft and seeing more flaws than anything else. Thanks for the good, honest advice.

  34. I’m about to begin serializing a story I began over 20 years ago, when I was in elementary school. My title character has gone through so many revisions since then, most of them stemming from a child’s imagination who thought that sure, that’s plausible.

    For example, the humans in this story have a rare genetic quirk that enables certain people to temporary alter in appearance when a particular chemical imbalance happens in the body. Once this transformation happens, even after resuming their actual appearance, the “Formers” retain one physical trait of their change. I wanted to bling out my character with extra traits, like sharpened teeth. Um, no. THe non-retractable claws are enough.

    I wanted her to have bazillions of dollars and sail in a ultra-modern ship. Nope. I wanted her to be undefeatable and unassailable. Nope. Nope. She’d know things before they happened. Hah. Everyone loved, feared, and respected her, because she’s bada$$. No; her name is not Mary for a good reason. She bleeds, cries, and reacts like anyone else does. Yes, she has more toys, but she’s not particularly comforted by them. Why?

    That’s the conflict I’m trying to build through subtext, misdirection, and plot. I’m working to drill down to the core conflict for my primary POV characters and create the indirect exposition that leaves the readers guessing and hungry to know.

    Thank you, Kristen, for keeping me challenged and reminded to press deeper.

  35. Wonderful post. You write with such refreshing clarity. Another thumbs-up for King’s book. I pinpoint my darlings by reading the manuscript aloud. If something comes out sounding phony, trite, overblown, purple, etc. it gets the ax. Strange, isn’t it, what a difference reading one’s work aloud can make?

  36. Love this advice. It’s easy to just think of conflict and drama as “serious things happening” without giving it any kind of meaning. This gets at the heart of what it means to write good conflict.

  37. Great post!
    Like Heather Justesen posted, I have a separate file for cut scenes, and like her, I’m rarely able to bring them back into the story. They’re tangents that don’t fit into the book I’m writing.
    Still, that doesn’t mean they are useless. What I HAVE done successfully is taken those scenes and used versions of them elsewhere. I think about what I like best about them, what I feel is working with them, and sometimes I can turn some of the cut excerpt into a poem or a piece of flash fiction. Usually a lot needs to be changed from the original as it morphs into a shorter, stand-alone piece, but I’ve had a good bit of success with that. And with that in mind, it’s much easier for me to move that into a separate file and not try to dig it up and bring it back to life in the original ms.

  38. I’m not far enough in the editing proces to truly have considered little darlings. But I think I’ve killed a few in rewriting. I never really tried, but I’ve become better at guillotining them unlike when I was little and loved to just add and add and add.

  39. Reblogged this on Time to Write and commented:
    Excellent post about “little darlings”

  40. Reblogged this on laughidareyou and commented:
    I love christen lambs blog, WHAT A MASTERMIND! Great tips.

  41. Great post!
    It’s so true that complexity doesn’t equal conflict, and something I try to remember for my own writing. The ‘core’ of a story sounds simple, but it can be hard to articulate.

  42. Love this. We really have to kill our darlings before they kill the story! Reblogged this on and commented: Kristen Lamb reminds us not to fall in love with the sound of our own voice. Great advice.

  43. Reblogged this on The Writers' Journey-Dorcas Graham and commented:
    Kristen Lamb reminds us not to fall in love with the sound of our own voice. Great advice.

  44. I haven’t written that long, but I know what you mean. I hate to delete the (what I consider) a cute phrase or happening. However, I’m beginning to let it go more nowdays. I looked back at a novel I wrote about three years ago (never did anything much with it) and was appalled by how bad it is in places. Thanks for the reminder.

  1. […] If you’d like to read more about killing your darlings, check out Kristen Lamb’s post, “Little Darlings and Why They Must Die…For Real.” […]

  2. […] Little Darlings & Why They Must Die … For REAL by Kristen Lamb – Okay, the self-love theme is broken with this one and we’re back to more usual writing advice. This post reminds us why our little ‘writing darlings’ are so dangerous. […]

  3. […] Or as the lady has said and said … Kill off the little darlings … link to Kristen Lamb’s blog posts. […]

  4. […] White Horseman to have a cause worthy of the crimes committed, they’d have had to ditch their little darling….having the BBT puppet master being the detective’s […]

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