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September 04, 2008



I've always had a hard time understanding the "kill your darlings" dictum. For one thing, it presupposes that all writers write fancy prose at the same level, and fails to distinguish what might be *good* lyrical writing from bad. Sure, no one wants to read a hack who thinks he's Flaubert, but try telling a stylist like Banville or the late William Styron to scale back on the flights of grandiloquence, that "less is more." These are writers who are read, in my mind, principally for their language, and if they were to hew to that line, the world of literature would be at a loss.


Agreed. I was taught in creative writing class to "kill your darlings," and I am suspicious of this dictum. Far too many contemporary writers display polite timidity rather than bold artistry in their engagement with language, the cocoon of the sentence.

Malcolm Campbell

Whoever first said "kill your darlings" probably couldn't write and wanted to bring everyone else down to his loveless, mundane level.


Joshua Henkin

Leon et al--

Certainly there are writers such as Banville, Styron, and others for whom language is at the heart of their enterprise, and for whom the phrase "kill your darlings" would have to mean something different. But I don't think it follows that for a more lyrical and grandiloquent writer "kill your darlings" is bad advice or that the phrase necessarily implies less is more. Even language-driven writers aren't simply taking their hundred most beautifully written and lyrical sentences and slapping them down on the page wherever they fall. For every writer, no matter how grandiloquent or terse, there's the individual sentence and the larger enterprise, and the larger enterprise isn't simply the sum of the discrete parts. All "kill your darlings" suggests is that it may be in the writer's interest to cut something they love in service of the larger project, and this, it seems to me, is true (or at least can be true, depending on the circumstances) no matter what kind of writer you are.



Thanks for the sound and reasonable response. I get it.

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