“Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.” A term I’ve heard repeatedly but find new meanings for every time I sit down to write, revise or rewrite. Who are your darlings exactly? Are they your characters? A scene? A short story? Or, maybe it is your entire novel? Our jobs as writers can sometimes be wrought with several trials in order to test our strength and willpower and, rest assured, several sacrifices will be made along the way. In this blog post, I will be holding a memorial service for all my darlings that were lost on this journey, whether they be characters, short stories or ideas. RIP and may they never be truly forgotten. Characters: I’m sure we’ve all written characters who at first seem very promising. They are helpful to our protagonist or antagonist or maybe they are our protagonist or antagonist. Then, when we really sit down and look at them, we find that they are flat, a copy of another character or maybe they are just in the wrong story. It is then that we as writers must make a vital decision: To kill or not to kill? That is the question. I had a glorious character once. He was a germaphobe, a journalist who originally was from France but moved to New York in the 1920s. He had a lover, another man who was getting married and in order to run away from the impending issues of his lover getting married, he decides to go to China to write a story. However, as I began to write about this character he became forced, his dialogue too boring or too in your face. I disliked and not because I purposefully made him despicable but because he was so difficult to write. Then the story wasn’t even about him anymore. A minor character pushed him aside and decided she would be the protagonist of the story. I won’t say that I killed him. He is still in my mind as is the story. However, he no longer exists on the page but has retreated to the corner of my mind marked “characters for later.” He is baking in the oven, one day ready to be taken out but for now still cooking.
Drafts: When I have an idea, I want to make sure I get everything down. I may think I have the next great idea in my grasp but then I read it and…yikes. Sometimes I find myself just staring at a sentence wondering what on earth was I thinking? Did THAT come out of me? A draft is a draft for a reason. Whether we self edit or have an editor look at our preliminary drafts, they all won’t make the journey. It helps to learn that lesson now before you cling on too tightly to every single story you’ve written. What you may think is excellent and perfection someone else might rip in half, shred or take a red pen to it. Be ready for that day, a day I’m nervous about. People are allowed to have opinions and writers are also allowed to hold on to dreams, chapters, short stories, flash fiction pieces, sentences, words and punctuation. There are so many darlings at risk! Titles could be slaughtered. Whole sentences massacred! Characters disappearing without a trace! An entire scene replaced, as if it wasn’t even there to begin with. If you won’t take the time to kill your darlings someone else will. We must always be ready to sacrifice whether we are on the read to writing the first draft or publishing the final draft.
A Death Worth Writing:
The death of a character can, dare I say, be a positive thing. Whether it be the death of an antagonist we are all just begging to die *cough* Joffrey Baratheon *cough*, or the heartbreaking death of a character we loved and wanted so badly to succeed. But when to choose which darling to kill and the reason behind their death can be difficult. I’ve killed several, some of my characters never making it onto the page. One of the most common? Death of a parent. I’m speaking in the literal sense. I took a video game course and one of the assignments was to write a back story for a main character of a game. I created a dark elf rogue and decided to write how she becomes a rogue. Her mother sacrifices herself in order to be free and what’s worse? The daughter witnesses the death of her mother. The death of a character can have a lasting impact on those that survive them. The absence of a parent raises the question who will teach the boy or girl how to be a man or woman? Do they see the death and what impact does it have on the character? The death of a friend, teacher or pet can also have a lasting impression, directing the character’s motives or personality. However, it is our job as the writer to make sure that these deaths are earned. That they are not out of nowhere in some climatic scene where everyone but the protagonist dies because we had no idea where else to take the story. A character cannot die because we are bored with them. Probably should go back through the story and check to see if they are worth bringing to life in the first place. I believe a character should die to cause a ripple effect on another character. To shape the journey or to make them realize something vital. To push them to the brink of no return. I dedicate this post to all those characters who did not make it into the story or died during its creation. To the titles, sentences, paragraphs, pages and stories that are either ash or resting in a drawer. But most of all, to the writers and editors who make the difficult decision on whether or not their darlings are good enough to make it to the final draft. And whether its just time to take them behind the shed and shoot them. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. Who knows? Your story might be better off without them.