Storytelling and Life: When It’s Time To ‘Kill Your Darlings’

Good storytelling sometimes requires the author to, as the industry saying goes, kill your darlings.

BY SPENCER T FOLMAR

I love this brutal expression. It is means that we have to get rid of our most precious, and especially self-indulgent, passages in a story for the greater good of the overall work. It is true for all storytellers, who in order to have the very best narrative, must sometimes cut away and prune the indulgences of the author… and characters.

This is such an intriguing concept that I have personally experienced in my own career. Each time I make another movie, write a screenplay, or review the final edit of a movie before releasing it to audiences I go through this process. There is one last and final soul-searching hunt for whatever is still remaining that needs to be cut away for the betterment of the story.

TLA - Spencer T Folmar - StorytellingIn writing, I start scenes later and get out of them sooner. On set, I recognize that every frame must somehow help tell the story and main theme. Then, in fishing post production and editing, after taking feedback from trusted industry colleagues and test audiences, I look outside my own experience and do what is best for the overall movie.

I believe that much can be learned in our daily lives by the writer’s process of killing your darlings. When looking back on my own life, most of the worst moments in my story are when I should’ve let go of my bad decisions, my sin. So, many intersections in my narrative have been worsened because I was rebellious in trying to resist discipline and letting my darlings get the best of me.

This writer’s process is not unlike the passage in which Jesus talks about pruning away the dead branches to make way for new life. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)

The Puritans often wrote on the practice of “mortification of sin.” These are violent and jarring terms: kill, mortify, or to put to death, but that is because we as creators, and God as the ultimate author care deeply about story. John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

The Apostle Paul reinforced this terminology and stance on sin in Romans 8:13. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Sin is a serious and weighty reality, because not only can it ruin your story it can destroy your very soul.

When an author kills their darlings, they are letting go of whatever doesn’t serve the main idea or goal of the story. In our own lives, we too are called to cut away whatever doesn’t serve our main goal in being Christ followers. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism). Of course, we will fail and continue to be plagued by our own destructive sin nature until our story on this earth ends, but we can have faith that the Lord is full or grace and mercy to those who love Him.

God is weaving the great tapestry of life together for his perfect story, and although we may be just a thread in the redemptive narrative, I believe in the end we will all be overwhelmed with a very good story. I leave you with this parting passage on God’s perfect storytelling:

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage… that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Director Spencer T. Folmar’s theatrical debut, “Generational Sins,” has spurred a national debate surrounding the interplay of faith and film. Folmar coined the term “Hard Faith” to describe this new genre of film, written for audiences who are hungry for hope in the midst of gritty real-life stories. Folmar’s films are now released under his Los Angeles production company Hard Faith Films, which is currently developing several projects that will reflect today’s multifaceted culture and audience.

READ: When Hollywood Christians Come Together

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