Kill Your Darlings: Brutal Writing Advice

Kill Your Darlings: Brutal Writing Advice

Kill Your Darlings (KYD) is a piece of writing advice that is repeated over and over again to writers all over the world, but rarely does this piece of writing advice come with a description. What exactly does Kill Your Darlings mean?

Kill Your Darlings refers to the choice that every writer must make. When you write a draft, you will inevitably include content that you enjoyed writing, but does not truly service the story. As a writer, especially in the past when traditional publishing was the only option for a professional writer, you needed to identify and remove these scenes.

First, it was a matter of length. There is a target word goal for published writing. It’s why you see so many fiction books within the range of 300 to 450 pages. Genre can impact these word goal expectations, just FYI. That’s why we have SF/F novels that can typically reach the 800 page mark.

Second, it was a matter of content. When writing for an audience or market, you don’t want to include fluff in your story. Now, creatives will respond to that saying that the author’s version of the story should include all of that kind of content. It makes the world more real, provides characters with more depth, and is a more holistic piece of art.


But, also.

Not every reader wants to spend 40 pages reading something that doesn’t contribute to the overall story. These readers are the ones who will comment that the story had “slow pacing” or a “meandering plot” because they were expecting a tightly-written story. Some readers may feel like their trust was betrayed because they spent over an hour reading through a scene that would not have an overall impact on the story. Some might equate it to filler episodes within Anime. And, that’s why a large group of viewers choose to skip those episodes.

NOTE: KYD does not only refer to scenes or chapters, but can refer to descriptions, characters, and more.

How to Identify KYD Scenes

If you’re a writer who wants to create a streamlined plot and story, how can you identify scenes to refine?

The first and most important way is to go through your scenes and ask yourself what this scene accomplishes.

  • What is the goal of this scene?
  • What does it accomplish within the journey of the story?
  • Is it developing characters?
  • Is it exploring the setting?
  • Reaffirming the theme?
  • Is it moving the plot?

If you can cut this scene without impacting the story, then maybe you should. These scenes are just decoration.

If your scene does accomplish one of these goals, then now we have options. If every scene in your story accomplishes one goal, then you have a story full of necessary content. But, that does not mean your story can’t be streamlined.

Great authors write scenes that accomplish multiple things at once.

Solo Scenes

If your scene only checks one of the above goals, then I would consider that to be a SOLO SCENE. A scene that is integral to the story, but still has room for improvement.

Of course, your story can have Solo Scenes. But, they shouldn’t be fully comprised of Solo Scenes. In a perfect world, each scene in your story would support your character development, support your theme, emphasize your setting, and move your plot. However, in important moments, you can use the Solo Scene to really focus on one goal.

It’s almost akin to sentence length in writing.

This Sentence Has Five Words Example

If every sentence you write has five words, then it all feel bland. If you throw in variation, then you can emphasize different parts of your story. Solo Scenes can be used like that.

The problem comes when your story is full of Solo Scenes. This is something that really hurts the pacing of a story.

Take your Solo Scenes and Do More

That action scene should also be a moment where your characters learn to trust each other. That exposition should happen during a relevant plot twist. Your characters should encounter issues just when their journeys get difficult. Combine individual moments to make your story more efficient.

Double Dips

Another kind of scene that is the perfect KYD target is the Double Dip Scene. These are pairs of scenes that might come up in your early drafts.

Double Dip Scenes are scenes that accomplish the same (or similar goals) in two different parts of your book. Now, before we go any further, know that this is totally okay to write into your draft as long as you edit and refine after. Double Dip Scenes happen when you write a scene early in your draft that accomplishes a goal and then write a later scene that only serves to restate or emphasize that goal.

I’ve found that these Double Dip Scenes are more common to writers that write without an Outline and choose to discover their story along the way. You may write a scene that establishes a character flaw or interesting plot point and then find a better place to explore that element in another scene. In cases like you, you need to cut one. Having both can be redundant.


Find examples of these Solo Scenes and Double Dip Scenes in published, modern stories is difficult because they are revised before publication. However, stories written in ages past are full of scenes that only do one thing. Don Quixote is full of punchline scenes (which I love) and traditional fiction works like Tolstoy’s are full of Solo Scenes purely meant to focus on character.

These are Solo Scenes on purpose.

Don Quixote has so many scenes that serve only the purpose of displaying the comedy of our Don and his party. Anna Karenina has so many scenes that focus on individual relationships between characters because that was Tolstoy’s primary focus for the story.

And, yet, these works of art fall victim to a classic folly of traditional fiction in a modern era. Their length and their pacing. Fantastic writing and characters and stories that have stood the test of time, but would not exist in the same way if written today. A product of their era.

What do you think about Solo Scenes and Double Dip Scenes? Do you think they should be cut? Do you think that they are tools of writing?