Love is in the air as we approach Valentine’s Day (or “Single-Awareness Day” if you are unbetrothed like myself) so what better time is there to talk about one of my favorite tips for writers: Kill your darlings. Ah, makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it?
Learning to “kill your darlings” is one of the first things a writer should learn but can be one of the hardest things for a writer to accept. I understand this first hand. Even after seeing multiple examples of the benefits of getting rid of unnecessary characters, songs, or dialogue, there are times I still fight tooth and nail before I hit delete on my darlings.
One of the funniest exercises I like to do with a new script is a “Cut the Clever” edit. This comes from one of my favorite teachers, David Spencer. In his legendary book “The Musical Theater Writer’s Survival Guide,” he encourages writers to “cut everything you think is brilliant and clever” from your script because chances are, it is just crowding your story.
I tested this theory early on in my career and it literally changed my life. I had written a show that takes place in a fantastical world, which allowed plenty of opportunities for puns and pop culture references. I thought it was brilliant. I couldn’t wait to share this 150-page masterpiece with anyone willing to read it.
150 pages. Bless all of you who read those first drafts!
After several rewrites, I realized I was constantly updating pop culture references as they expired. So I decided to do a brutal “cut the clever” edit and see how the show played. It was truly one of the hardest things I have ever done. To my surprise (and horror!) the script went from 150 pages to 110. Over 40 pages of “clever” gone. I was sure the show would become humorless and boring. I couldn’t have been more wrong! What I was left with was a clearer story and snappier score. Plus, the “clever” that did remain in the show became even funnier now that it didn’t have to compete with an overabundance of puns on every page.
Are you up for a “Cut the Clever” edit of your new script? You may be surprised at how much your show will grow. And there is no one stopping you from putting some “clever” back in if you want to! Give it a try and see if killing a few darlings makes you fall in love all over again with your script!
P.S. For more insights like these, join our tribe of TheaterMakers at The TheaterMakers Studio and open up a treasure trove of resources that will help you “Cut the Clever” and get you to the next stage of production!