One of the best pieces of advice I have received as a children’s book illustrator and aspiring author comes from an unlikely source. Unlikely in the sense that despite his prodigious output, I doubt William Faulkner ever counted a picture book among his impressive oeuvre. Regardless, I think his advice to ‘kill all your darlings’ holds weight with any author writing any genre for any audience.
In literary terms, to ‘kill your darlings’ simply means to get rid of the things that often you love most about your story. It’s the words, side plots, characters, and turns of phrase that you personally adore, but actually (if you are truthful with yourself) don’t really advance your story.
Most recently for me, it meant discarding an old illustration that while powerful on it’s own, has never pushed my plot forward. Draft after draft of my story, I refused to let it go and in turn, it became the last sticky spot, like that old piece of gum you can’t quite peel off the sole of your favorite shoes. I just couldn’t convince myself to toss those sneakers, er, sketch.
I cropped it, stretched it, literally turned it upside-down. But no amount of literary acrobatics could make it perform the climactic summersault I needed at that point in my story.
So I let it go.
But as any other writer who has killed a few of her own darlings knows, it never truly went away. Yes, physically, it remains stuck to the storyboard wall in my studio. But so do many other false starts and first-time sketches. All of them are reminders of how far my story has progressed. And within those initial ideas lie the seeds of better ideas, waiting patiently for their moment to flourish.