I saw this piece of advice somewhere on Red Lemonade, and I’m not sure I fully understand what it means, so I thought I would pose it to the community.
In my mind, ‘Kill your darlings’ could serve a short fiction writer well, since the form places value on economy and directness. I’m not so sure that the advice serves novelists.
Short fiction writers and novelists are working from different palettes. True, many novels in our era read like long short stories (Hello, ‘The Road’) and while they can be well done, I feel like these writers missed many of the opportunities that the novel form allows. In other words, a novel can be nothing but darlings that were grown from seed, given light and water, and then harvested by the novelist. Novels can be messy, digressive, and flawed -- and those elements can serve among the novel’s strengths (Hello, ‘Catch-22’).
Further, a novel should revel in its darlings. If a novelist self-censors the pieces she likes most in her book, all that’s left in the book are pieces formed from advice from creative writing teachers and expectations of what publishers are looking for. The more passionate the novelist is about the material, the more likely it will resonate with readers.
I know the ‘kill your darlings’ quote is attributed to William Faulkner. If he had heeded his own advice, his collected works would be thinner and far less engaging.
As far as novelists go, Faulkner had remarkable instincts. Instinct might be a good novelist’s greatest asset. Instinct can guide a writer’s decisions on what to leave in (and how to present it) and what to take out (and how to fill the holes) in order to best serve the novel. From my own experience, I think it’s better at least in my own process to trust my instincts rather than remove the passages I like best.
I get a feeling I might be missing the point here, so I welcome conversation on this topic.