Keith MacKenzie 26 letters. A million and more words. No limit to stories.

Repurpose your darlings

There are a few time-honoured and well-used cliches when it comes to whetting your craft as a writer.

Among them:

1) Show don’t tell.

2) Don’t use adverbs

3) Kill your darlings.

First, show don’t tell. This one’s plainly evident. It’s overused and overtaught but, man, I can’t stress enough the importance of it. Imagine someone telling you about the hot barista at the local indie coffee shop. He tells you simply; “God damn it, she’s hot!”

And that’s it. You now know she’s hot. But you don’t feel her heat. You don’t even picture her in your head.

But if your buddy tells you about the long curly locks of fire-red hair coming down over shining blue eyes, and her blue Superman shirt tight enough that you can see all her curves and the fact that she doesn’t have a bra underneath? Well, now, you can picture that. Because your buddy painted a picture for you and you can now see her. He’s shown her to you, rather than simply told you about her. So, show don’t tell. Fair ’nuff, right?

And now, adverbs. I didn’t think about it enough until I read Stephen King’s On Writing. One of the best books on the craft out there. In it, King is utmostly clear that adverbs are the most evil (evillest?) words in the English language.

Why? Well, I tell you adamantly that adverbs are ultimately not helpful and not appropriately conducive to telling a good story, and King would energetically agree.

Fuck it. Why not just say: I tell you that adverbs are not helpful and not conducive to telling a good story, and King would agree.

That reads better, doesn’t it? Let the voice speak for itself with well-chosen verbs and adjectives, and it’ll read much more smoothly.

And dialogue – “said” is all you need to use. I can go on about that in another blog entry, but in short, if your dialogue is good, the reader will know how the speaker delivers his lines and that’s good enough.

On to the most important of the cliches – kill your darlings. How I hate, hate, hate that one. Many writers will remind you of the importance of being able to nuke a three-page swath of precious writing because it doesn’t contribute to the story, or removing a character you really, really like because he/she just doesn’t fit. That’s all good and well, and very important advice too. That’s why we writers need editors – and ruthless ones at that – so that we can get rid of all the chaff that weighs down the prose.

But it doesn’t mean to take out the guillotine – ok, the white-out – and eliminate it from the paper. That’s not fair especially if you really are in love with that chunk of prose or that character you just created.

You don’t do that sort of thing to the things you love.

Better to remove them from that existing story and start a whole new story with them. Really. If your character is that awesome, he deserves to live. In fact, he deserves his own universe.

And your prose deserves to see the light of day, even if it doesn’t make it into the final product of your first book.

I’m not saying save everything. There is a lot of crap that should be deleted. But killing your darlings means working up the courage to edit out the very capable prose that doesn’t fit into the prose that you’re working on at the moment.

So, I propose a new rule. Repurpose your darlings. Reuse, reduce, recycle… Repurpose. Ctrl-X and paste into a new document and save it into a new folder titled “Future writing”.

Your characters and your words – and your readers too – will thank you.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Keith MacKenzie


Four books in the fire. Dozens of short stories fluttering about. Mission: To get the word out.

One Response to “Repurpose your darlings”

  • Repurposing seems like the wisest writing advice that I have read in quite some time. Thanks!