Kill your darlings.
So goes the old screenwriting mantra.
It’s a brutal lesson that all writers should learn at the very outset of their career, but one which will save them a lot of anguish and wasted time in the long run.
We writers are prone to flights of fancy. Light bulb moments when an idea seemingly so apt, so brilliant pops into our consciousness that we feel compelled to share it with the world. It could be an ingenious piece of word play. Or maybe a classic “funny thing happened to me today”. Whatever its origin, the temptation is huge to use it and use it quick. Even if it does mean shoehorning a square peg into a round hole.
However, these darlings may well be devils in disguise. Demons sent to derail your bigger picture, hoisting it on the petard of self-regarding smart alecness. For while your funny little gag, scene or even sub-plot works wonders in isolation it may well be driving your overall concept down a dark alley. A very muddy, dark alley – where confusion reigns and your story runs around in frantic circles, fated never to escape.
In film and TV-land this is where the Script Editor earns his or her corn. Taking the necessary tough love approach, they will advise the writer that no matter how funny or clever this ‘darling’ idea is it doesn’t belong in this story. For the sake of the story at hand, it must be eliminated. If it pains you so much to part with it, consider giving it a life after this swift demise. A kind of cryogenic deep freeze for a great idea that found itself parachuted into the wrong story at the wrong time. This may mean storing it in your ‘ideas’ folder. (We’ve all got one, haven’t we?). Or consider it as the springboard for your next story. Just don’t go sullying something that was already working perfectly well without it.
On a smaller scale, killing your darlings applies equally when producing digital or promotional content. For example… You’ve got a budget. It’s not as much as you’d like, but enough to create a little film. You’ve also got a story. A nice through-line that communicates your brand, your message and has a defined audience.
Then suddenly you (or probably someone who works with you) decides that one story is not enough. You’re making a film, you’re hiring the crew – why waste this opportunity on communicating one message when you can add value by communicating three or four? There’s no way you can afford to make three separate films, but that’s cool because you can cram all three messages into the one film you’re making anyway.
It’s hard to resist. But resist you must, because if you overload your story premise with three or four more what you’ll almost certainly end up with is a total mess. And although it may sound like an economical measure to make one film instead of three, you’ll soon find that to be a false economy as your post-production costs spiral in what seems like a never-ending edit process where you essentially try to untangle numerous competing strands of your story to rediscover that through-line clarity you started out with.
The solution is both painful and liberating. Kill your darlings, save your bigger picture.
You’ll probably end up saving your sanity, time and a fair bit of dosh too…