Kill Your Babies

The phrase ‘kill your babies’ is one that often gets thrown around in writing and filmmaking. It basically means that you shouldn’t get too attached to your ideas because every once in awhile, you’ll have the best idea you’ve ever had in your life – your career, even – and you’ll want to keep it. But it doesn’t work for the story. And so, you’ll need to let it go, even though you’ll never come up with an idea that’s better.

That’s the theory anyway. Some people take it in different ways – some people say that once you’ve finished the first draft of your script your should go back and cut your best scene out entirely. Or cut your best idea. Your best line of dialogue. I never really understood that way of thinking – surely you would keep developing your ideas so that they matched your very best one, not cut your best one to match the calibre of the rest? But everyone writes differently, so if that’s what works for you as a writer, then knock yourself out.

I’m working on a sitcom at the moment with my partner in crime, Anton. We’re developing the plotline of the episode that we’ll end up writing as our pilot. We spent weeks putting all the storylines into context of the first series, making sure all the characters had arcs and often throwing old ideas out because we’d discover something even better that was borne out of story and character in the context of the episode instead of spontaneous inspiration. We’d slaved over this one particular episode and had some really strong ideas for it, we knew what needed to happen but it wasn’t coming together. There was something that wasn’t flowing naturally and neither of us wanted to try to force the episode into a shape it wasn’t going to fit into.

So we took a breather to try and figure it out and I suggested throwing everything out and figuring out what the function of the episode needed to be at its very core. Not surprisingly, Anton was slightly skeptical of doing that, considering how hard we’d been working on it. I probably would’ve reacted the same way if he’d suggested it to me. But, as I explained to him, we were just going to use it as an exercise to see if we could find what wasn’t working. It didn’t mean that we were binning everything to never look at it again. It was just about getting back to the core of the episode to see what we were trying to do and if there were better ways of doing it than what we were working with.

We did that. We got it back to the core function of story and character. We straightened out the kinks in the skeleton, laid all the groundwork properly, then went back and talked about the best possible way to hit all the beats and make the characters do exactly what they needed to do for the episode. And we came up with some amazing new ideas  out of that (some of which have been overtaken already by others).

But we also realised that the main idea we were working with for the episode still worked. Really really well. We weren’t so stubborn that we’d ‘killed’ it, then refused to bring it back into the story because it was too much of a good idea. What was the point of that if the idea was still working? We brought it back in, surrounded by other, newer ideas which were stronger and better (and funnier) and the whole episode sprung into new life.

That’s why I don’t really agree with the term ‘kill your babies’. In my eyes, it’s kind of like shooting yourself in the foot. If it’s not working with the rest of the story, then yes, you should probably put it aside and save it for something else. But if it still can play a strong enough role in terms of story and character in your script, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to revive that baby and bring it back to life.

So maybe the phrase should be ‘Knock Your Babies Out With A Sedative Until You Can Figure Out If They’re Working Or Not’?

Too long? Yeah, I think so too. I’ll work on it.

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