William Faulker said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Long before him, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch used the words, “Murder your darlings.”
I’ve read various interpretations. Basically, if you absolutely love a scene or a character that doesn’t advance the story, get rid of it even if you love it.
I got cured of the idea that my writing is absolutely golden when I was a reporter. I turned in a news story or a feature to an editor. Then, when I saw the finished product — fortunately I had good editors — I recognized it was better. I wasn’t insulted. It was time to write the next one.
Now, that I write fiction, I take the advice to another level. Too often I get stuck on a word or a phrase. I don’t even know it at the time, sort of like the way we pick up habits. I certainly didn’t intend to use the phrase “raise a finger” four times in a chapter, but there it is.
But I have a formidable tool thanks to my agent, Spencer, who sent me a link to a word frequency counter on WriteWords’ website. I copy and paste a chapter — I’ve even done an entire manuscript — into a box, hit submit, and then get back a list of words and how many times I used them. It also has a phrase frequency counter.
Ugh, did I really use the word “that” so many times? Really, how many times do my characters have to roll their eyes, chuckle, or sigh? So, I go back to my writing, do a search, and figure out what to do. That’s what I just did with the manuscript for The Twin Jinn and the Alchemy Machine.
Want to give the tool a try? Here’s the link, and then you, too, can do away with your little darlings: