Become a Mass Murderer

Many writers are in the starting blocks for the yearly word-sprint, NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month). While “Killing your darlings” means hitting the delete key during post-writing edits, having this in the back of your mind while writing the first draft may not only save time but send you down a stronger plotline.

Many writers have been given credit for saying “Kill your darlings.” – Welty, Chekov, Faulkner, Wilde, Ginsberg, and King who quoted Faulkner. Arthur Quiller-Couch first used the saying in the early 1900s during a series of Cambridge lectures, “On the Art of Writing.”

The “darlings” are those words, side plots, characters or phrases you personally love but which don’t advance your story in any way. In short, every element in your story should have a purpose. If it doesn’t – delete.

Many pundits have shared their thoughts on this. This is a quick summary. If you want more details, search “killing your darlings.” What follows is taken from the eFile at []


Feel warm and fuzzy for a character that doesn’t advance or impact the plot? Give them a purpose or toss them into the netherworld of digital bits.


Subplots should feedback into the main storyline. Instead of deleting, consider if they can evolve into a short story or novel. Having a file of story ideas doesn’t hurt.


Be careful of over-writing to help readers visualize the story. Give readers room to imagine the story as they see fit. Look at eliminating wordy sentences and unnecessary descriptions.


When creating characters, a writer should go into far more depth than necessary. Most is for you, not the reader. One major author has the habit of introducing an actor and giving an information dump in the next paragraph, breaking the story’s flow. Provide physical descriptions and attributes at appropriate and meaningful times. Use backstory when it serves to help the reader understand the actor’s journey.


A prologue is usually just backstory and not a good way to start a story unless properly executed. Even if it serves a purpose, work it into the story at meaningful times to clarify the present action. For an example of appropriate prologue use, take a look at Clive Cussler’s “The Navigator.” It is a short story that does what a first chapter should do – get the reader’s interest and set the stage for the main story. (See “Your First Chapter” below.)


Sit back and consider the value of each scene. Does it advance the character or the storyline? Like weak/unnecessary characters, if it has little effect, let it go or give it some meaning.


Love interests or scenes can become a powerful tool. Treated as a reward for the characters’ achievements is superfluous garbage. Give it meaning. Do some research on how to write those moments. Sometimes less is better than more. Pander to the reader’s imagination.


The most important chapter you write is Chapter One. Specifically, paragraph one. If you do not capture the reader’s interest there and draw them into the story, you’ve wasted months of effort. There are a number of good books on this topic alone. “Hooked: Write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go,” by Les Edgerton, is excellent and available in every format. (It’s also inexpensive.) In short, start your story at the inciting incident.


Thematic statements encourage the reader to reconsider their worldview and come to new conclusions by sharing the characters’ experiences. Heavy-handed preaching is a story-killer. Be subtle and let the reader read between the lines.


As you create a story, continually ask, “Does this element serve a purpose”? That may help you from becoming a mass murderer later.

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