Kill My Darlings: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
October 22, 2023

The phrase "kill my darlings," or more commonly, "kill your darlings," is a piece of advice often given to writers or artists. It emphasizes the importance of removing elements from one's work, even if the creator is particularly fond of them, if they do not serve the overall narrative or purpose of the piece. The "darlings" in the phrase refer to parts of the work that the author might be especially proud of or attached to, but that might not be necessary or even detrimental to the creation.

In short:

  • It means removing favorite but unneeded elements from a creation.
  • This phrase asks creators to focus on the bigger picture rather than individual elements they're fond of.

What Does "Kill My Darlings" Mean?

“Kill my darlings” is an advice often given to creators, especially writers. It suggests that they should eliminate elements dear to them if these components don’t elevate the overall work. This means looking past personal attachments to make the work better.

Let’s break down its essence and application:

  • While often associated with writing, "kill my darlings" can apply to any creative endeavor, from filmmaking to painting.
  • It's a reminder that personal attachment shouldn't overshadow the need for a cohesive and impactful final product.
  • Removing a beloved scene or element might be challenging, but this sacrifice can produce a more polished result.
  • Artists might use this phrase when discussing the refining stages of their work, signaling the difficult decisions they had to make.
  • It underscores the importance of detachment and discernment in the creative process.

Where Does "Kill My Darlings" Come From?

The phrase "kill your darlings" and its variations, including "murder your darlings" and "kill your babies," have been passed down in writing workshops and guides for many years. It has been attributed to numerous renowned 20th-century English authors. For instance, it has often been associated with William Faulkner, who is believed to have said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings." The phrase has also been linked to other literary figures such as Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty, G.K. Chesterton, Anton Chekhov, and Stephen King. Stephen King, in particular, wrote, "kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings."

Historical Example

"This does not mean I don't need an editor. I am often too close to 'kill my darlings,' as famous writers advise. But I believe that the best editors pass along to their writers some of their instincts for spotting..."

- A View from the Loft, Volume 17, 1994

10 Examples of "Kill My Darlings" in Sentences

To help you get a clearer grasp on when to use this phrase, let's check out some examples from different situations:

  • Sometimes, I must kill my darlings to bring out the best in me as a writer.
  • During the film editing process, the director found it hard but necessary to kill his darlings, cutting out several scenes to make the movie more engaging.
  • If you will, this is a radical revision, but I had to kill my darlings to make it work.
  • He hesitated but ultimately chose to kill his darlings by changing the song's chorus to make it more catchy for listeners.
  • That plot twist was done to death, so I had to kill my darlings and come up with something fresh.
  • The chef decided to kill his darlings and remove some dishes from the menu to focus on a more concise and flavorful selection.
  • When I revised the thematic elements of my novel, I had to kill my darlings to maintain coherence.
  • It's my prerogative to kill my darlings when I feel they no longer serve the story's purpose.
  • When curating the collection, the fashion designer had to kill her darlings to focus on the season's core looks.
  • The artwork looks good now, but I had to kill my darlings to get to this point.

Examples of "Kill My Darlings" in Pop Culture

This expression has found its way into pop culture, mainly hinting at the process of refining and making hard decisions for the sake of art.

Let's dig into some references:

  • "Kill Your Darlings" is a 2013 movie directed by John Krokidas. The film delves into the early lives of famous writers and touches on the challenges of creating art.
  • "Killing My Darlings" is the debut album of Swedish singer  Amanda Jenssen, reflecting on the journey and sacrifices in art.
  • An article on Phenixx Gaming discussing the 94th Academy Awards predictions uses the phrase in the context of making difficult choices.
  • "Shuffology," a podcast series on That's Not Canon Productions, has episodes titled "Kill My Darlings."
  • An article on discusses the challenges of writing a novel and mentions the phrase when deciding which parts of a story to eliminate.
  • A podcast episode titled "Kill My Darlings" is part of the series Pop DNA.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Kill My Darlings"

Although "kill my darlings" is a unique phrase, other sayings emphasize sacrificing loved elements for the greater good.

Here are some of them:

  • Cutting cherished parts
  • Editing out the favorites
  • Trimming the excess
  • Letting go of beloved sections
  • Removing personal favorites
  • Ditching the non-essentials
  • Shedding favored elements
  • Sacrificing for the bigger picture
  • Discarding favored bits
  • Dropping treasured pieces

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Kill My Darlings":

  • What does "kill my darlings" mean?

"Kill my darlings" means getting rid of your favorite parts of a piece of work, like a story or a painting, to improve the overall outcome.

  • How can I use "kill my darlings" in a sentence?

You can slip it in when talking about refining or editing a creative project. For instance: “I always do my best in editing, even if it means I have to kill my darlings.” "While reading through the draft, I realized I needed to kill my darlings to improve the flow."

  • Who came up with this weird phrase?

The phrase is often attributed to William Faulkner, but it's been used by many authors to convey the idea of ruthless editing in the name of art.

  • Is it just for writers?

Nope! While it started with writers, anyone in a creative field can "kill their darlings" – it's all about ditching beloved elements for the greater good.

  • Why would anyone "kill" something they love?

It's not about hating what you created, but rather about recognizing that sometimes even your favorite bits can detract from the larger goal. It's a sacrifice for the bigger picture.

  • Can it be emotionally hard to "kill your darlings"?

Oh, absolutely! It can be tough letting go of something you're attached to. But it's all for the sake of improving the overall project.

  • How do I decide which "darling" to "kill"?

It's all about objectivity. Ask yourself if this "darling" really serves the story or project. Getting feedback from others can also help spot them.

  • What if I regret killing a darling?

Good news! In the digital age, nothing is truly lost. Save previous versions of your work. You can always revisit or reuse your "darlings" in another project.

  • Is there a right time to "kill my darlings"?

It often happens during the revision or editing phase. Once you've laid everything out, it's easier to spot what needs to go.

  • Has "kill my darlings" influenced pop culture?

Yes! There's even a movie titled "Kill Your Darlings". The phrase has inspired various works and discussions on the art of creation and refinement.

Final Thoughts About "Kill My Darlings"

The idiom "kill my darlings" is about making the tough calls in creativity. It's about the art, not the ego. Whether you're writing, painting, or composing music, sometimes you've got to let go of your favorites for the sake of the whole piece.

Here's a speedy recap:

  • It nudges creators to prioritize the entire work over individual, beloved parts.
  • Though it sounds morbid, it's a reminder that sacrifice often leads to better results.
  • Everyone from writers to designers might have to "kill their darlings" occasionally.

So, next time you're stuck on a project, step back and see if there's a "darling" you might need to part with. It could make all the difference!

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