William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, Anton Chekov, Eudora Welty, and Stephen King have ladled out similar advice. This from Stephen King: “…kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
All I know is that I fall in love with my insightful, witty, beautiful lines mainly because they’re damned hard to come up with. Yes, the story rules. Yes, if I want a successful story I need to be ruthless.
What do I do if a line or a passage needs to be cut to serve the story? I send those precious words to a notebook of orphaned lines. This can be a print notebook or a computer file—I copy them in both places. Once I know the darlings are safe and tucked in, I can be the ruthless professional I need to be.
Take Woody Allen as our shining role model for the cut-and-use-later school. He had a hilarious elevator to hell scene in Annie Hall, each floor of the elevator designated for a different level of sin—fifth floor for organized crime, fascist dictators and people who don’t appreciate oral sex. Allen cut this great scene to shape the Oscar for Best Picture, Annie Hall, but used it twenty years later in Deconstructing Harry.
Do your darlings ever find a home? The answer is a resounding yes—that is if they remain darling through the years until you find their story.