kill one's darlings

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A piece of advice to prospective authors that they must kill their “darlings”, i.e. suppress overuse of their favorite expressions, tropes, characters, etc. Often attributed to William Faulkner (1897–1962), but already expressed earlier by Arthur Quiller-Couch (murder your darlings);[1] more recently popularized by Stephen King.[2]


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kill one's darlings (third-person singular simple present kills one's darlings, present participle killing one's darlings, simple past and past participle killed one's darlings)

  1. (idiomatic) To destroy things or characters, particularly in art, of which one is fond, and thereby conflicted about.
    • 1965, Raymond Léopold Bruckerger, The History of Jesus Christ, page 161:
      Someone asked William Faulkner what the supreme law of art was, and he replied in three words: "Kill your darlings!"
    • 2008 January 20, Virginia Heffernan, “Art in the Age of Franchising”, in New York Times[2]:
      [Fans] won’t participate in online dialogues and events, visit message boards and chat rooms or design games. As a result, platforms for supplementary advertising aren’t built, starving even the shows fans profess to love  []. Aloof and passive fans kill their darlings.
    • 2011 January 30, Theodore Bale, “Choreographer Koresh debuts Sense of Human”, in Houston Chronicle[3]:
      In sharp contrast to choreographers who try to build a repertory that reflects an ongoing personal style, Koresh prefers to "kill his darlings," as he puts it, and start from scratch.
    • 2015 March 28, Ted Loos, “The Whitney Museum’s New Home”, in Wall Street Journal[4]:
      As the curators sifted through more than 100 years of artworks, disagreements inevitably arose. “We all had to kill our darlings,” says Foster.


  1. ^ Arthur Quiller-Couch (1916) “On Style”, in On the Art of Writing[1]:[] ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’
  2. ^ Stephen King (2000) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings