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Sharon Lynn Asks How Do You Kill Your Darlings?

Sharon Lynn’s short stories have appeared in multiple anthologies. Her Cotswold Crime series will debut in December 2022 with Death Takes a Bath. You can find out more about her on her website, or by clicking here, see her stories here, and read her last post here.

Kill Your Darlings is a phrase used in both writing and filmmaking. It refers to those scenes that you labored over, that you lovingly crafted, that you tell your editor are deal breakers. 

Table set for tea

When making a movie, it is often the scene that the director spent the most money on, used the most extras, and took the longest to shoot. It is like the cutting room floor is littered with cash to cut it. (metaphorically – we use computers now). Cut them, anyway.

In writing, the term sometimes refers to a scene with particularly poetic language, like a description of a sunrise that would make Shakespeare proud. Those pages rarely, if ever, fit into the story. Kill them. 

For me, my darlings are set dressings. Since my series Cotswold Crimes, is set in England, I want everyone to see it the way I do. Which tends to make my first drafts more like travelogues than mysteries. Delete them. 

Well, not completely deleted. I may have a document, an embarrassingly long one, of unnecessary scenes. Like the following when 19 year-old Maddie orders her first tea at the famous Sally Lunn’s in Death Takes A Bath (release date December 2022):

START

“What can I get for you?” A server appeared from nowhere, notepad in hand.

“A pot of Earl Grey tea and a scone, please.” Throwing caution to the wind, I added, “With clotted cream.”

 Everything arrived on white porcelain. The clotted cream wasn’t very creamy, but more well, clotted. After poking at it, I sampled a clump on my scone. My nose wrinkled as I tried to figure out what it tasted like.

“Anything else, then?” the server asked.

“What?” I jumped at being caught with a goofy expression. 

“Our Sally Lunn bunns are a national treasure,” she dutifully informed me, sounding bored.

“May I have one to go?” 

“You can get a box of nine Bunnies if you like, love.”

Love. She called me “love.” Like I was in a movie.

“Yes, please.”

It was important for me to remember that in England, everyone had an English accent, so I couldn’t automatically agree with everything anyone suggested to me.

END

I love this scene. I have these problems when I’m in England (both making faces when tasting new foods and agreeing to things because of charming accents). I had already deleted the fact that Sally Lunn is the oldest tea shop in England having opened in 1680.  Does it move the plot forward? Nope. And it’s not in the final book. But at least I got to share it here.

What are your darlings? 

Sharon Lynn

Sharon Lynn’s mystery short stories, Final Curtain (2020) and Death on Tap (2017) are published in anthologies by Malice Domestic and Sisters in Crime’s Desert Sleuths. You can find out more about her on her website, sharonlwrites.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Jacqueline Vick

    Oh, those poor darlings! You are exactly right. I have a few in my current work that I’d love to save, but it’s the chopping block for them. Thanks for the reminder

    1. Sharon Lynn

      The chopping block is right! It does feel like an execution when they go.

  2. Laurie Buchanan

    Sharon — Thank you for the timely reminder! I’m currently working on chapter 18 of book four in the Sean McPherson series, and it’s on the chopping block. Never fun. Always necessary.

  3. Not to be cranky here, but I really hate the phrase “Kill your darlings.” To me, it implies that if I like something in my writing, then I’m doing something wrong. Which is really hard for me because the hardest part of writing was to learn to trust my instincts. I’ve learned that when I’m really happy with something, it’s usually pretty darned good. There are always those little bits that you really like, but really don’t help the story. I probably have more in my writing than I like to think. And if that’s how we’re defining darlings, then I can go with that. But I’ve also discovered that if if there’s something that I really like that doesn’t belong in a story, it’s often that it doesn’t fit *that* particular story. So, I can kill it and resurrect it elsewhere.

    1. Great point, Anne! Trusting your instincts is vital. That balance between knowing something is good and editing it out is a knife’s edge. If cutting something leads to self-doubt, then I am all for leaving it in.

    2. Valerie Biel

      I love that idea, Anne, to “resurrect” that deleted scene elsewhere.

  4. Christine DeSmet

    Great post, Sharon. When I find a scene or part of a scene such as this that I enjoyed writing for myself or I see that the clients I coach like their scene very much, it just means the true plot connection didn’t come out yet. We felt momentum writing it. Sometimes we writers will write a pretty scene on instinct and with great energy and forget to push it enough toward the plot. It’s merely an unfinished scene. I happen to love atmospheric scenes that help me armchair travel and readers love to experience a new place, too. Those scenes can often be saved by a thought, action, a thing, or appearance of a character or piece of dialogue that creates a plot connection. Clotted cream can remind a sleuth of any number of things or people involved in a murder or murder scene. I love surprising myself that way and I’ve witnessed writing students and clients have “aha moments” about their instincts. And of course each of us has the right and powerful choice and wisdom to put the scene aside, too, and not use it. …I’m with Anne; I don’t like the sound of “killing.” We need to replace that phrase with something else. Maybe that’s the topic of another blog post!

    1. Absolutely right, Christine! I love settings, too, but 50 pages of it was a bit much.
      The part of the phrase I object to is actually the “darlings” word. It makes it sound as the the writing is cute or unnecessary, but I prefer to your interpretation of just not fulfilling its destiny yet.

  5. Avanti Centrae

    As a thriller author, the phrase always makes me think of killing off a character, which also needs to happen at times. Those deleted scenes make wonderful exclusive fan giveaways. I have a couple that I share with those who sign up for my newsletter.

  6. Setting descriptions. I love setting, so it’s tough when they have to go if I can’t find a way to use them to further character or plot development. Thanks for your post!

    1. Thanks, Sherrill! I love them, too. What I did with the scene I included above, and bits and pieces of the rest of the 50 pages, was to incorporate them throughout other scenes that move the plot forward. For example, when my main character returns to Sally Lunn’s, the server remembers her and her address. Maddie then realizes she told just about everyone she met where she lived on her first day in town. Since she received a severed human ear in the mail the next day, that information is now exciting and is more interesting than pages and pages of foreshadowing.

  7. Tracey Phillips

    Sharon, This is a phrase I’ve definitely come to terms with. And I too, have a VERY long document of cut scenes from my first book. Scenes that I cut while writing, then scenes my editor said, “get rid of it.” But as a short story writer, you probably know what a treasure trove this cache of half-written ideas can be! good luck with your upcoming debut!

  8. Thank you, Tracey! I’m excited to get Death Takes A Bath out into the world 🙂
    And yes! I love taking a beloved deleted scene and turning it into a complete story. Or using it as inspiration and taking it in a new direction.

  9. saralynrichard

    Aw, Sharon. You are a thoughtful, accomplished writer, and I love reading what you’ve cut. Thanks for sharing it, and best of luck with your debut novel. I can’t wait!

  10. Donna Rewolinski

    I completely understand. My series is about traveling to another country and I want readers to appreciate the sights, sounds, and tastes if the region, get asked about ‘moving the plot along’. My first edit often ‘kills off my darlings’. Great post!

  11. Yes, we all have to do it! I enjoyed getting to see one of your cut scenes and keeping them for give-aways sounds like a great idea. I too have a long document with cut scenes from many different books. After I paste them in, they just wither away ad infinitum. 🙂 Thanks for the post, Sharon!

  12. Valerie Biel

    I have a (what I think is) wonderful prom dress shopping scene in my book . . . my main character will be traveling with her mother on the date of prom, but she goes with her friends to shop and it’s a fun scene, but completely unnecessary to the plot. Out it went! It now lives in a file with all of my other ‘darlings.’ So sad!

    1. I would love to read that scene, Valerie! I just finished the 2nd in the Beltane series and love traveling not only to Ireland, but also back in time with your characters.

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