K Is For Killing Your Darlings

For the Blogging From A to Z Challenge I’m doing you all a huge favor and filling you in on the 26 Things To Hate About Writing.** I’m hoping by the end of April, I will have convinced all of you not to indulge in the wild insanity of becoming a writer. If I can save even one person from offering themselves up in sacrifice to the mad and fickle word gods, I will have done some good in this world.

Check out each letter’s post here.

KILLING YOUR DARLINGS

Kill your darlings! I bet you’ve heard that phrase before. I did, and didn’t realize it meant metaphorically, in your writing, so that’s why I’m writing this from inside a prison cell. I really wish language was a bit clearer.

Sometimes you can only move a story forward by killing someone (I don’t mean someone living in your house, a word of caution there) or it’s simply someone’s time to die. Sounds easy, right? I mean all you have to say is, “Then Erica fell off the building and plunged to her demise, and everyone was sad.” Easy, right? Except:

– It turns out killing a beloved character is really, really hard, even if it’s necessary. You might cry more than the reader does.
– If you kill someone, you have to do it the right way. If your pioneers have been trekking across the lonesome prairie for six months and now Jeb gets killed by a random runaway Volkswagen, that’s gonna be a little bit weird.
– You can’t just use death as a plot device, every time you get stuck in a corner. Especially if this is a sweet romance.
– Sometimes it’s hard to describe the method of death. You’ve never choked to death on a chicken finger, or know anyone who has, so it’s hard to describe it.

Killing off characters, especially ones you like, is one of the worst things about writing. I know it’s necessary, and can bring depth to a story, and may even be the exact right thing that needs to happen. It can elicit strong reactions from your readers and make them love or hate you. It’s a careful exercise that you have to execute masterfully. Eventually, a character has to go, and that’s true for a lot of us. My advice is not to act out the murder in real life for ‘research.’ It turns out the police don’t care how much of an artist you claim to be. Free Megan!


**Disclaimer: If you haven’t figured it out, these posts are pure satire and simply a humorous way to vent my writing frustrations. No offense is intended to anyone. Please, become or continue being a writer. It’s awesome, I swear. It’s super…duper, awesome…heh heh.

33 comments

  1. In the novel I crafted during NaNoWriMo 2016 I had a couple of chapters where I intimated a main character could be killed but he wasn’t and later he was in the I.C.U. for a while, but did not die. I have killed establuished characters, but never a signature character. It is hard sometimes, especially if you pattern them off the personality of someone you are especially fond of and allow it to seem real.

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    1. Yes, definitely hard. But I think if the character feels real to you, it will to your readers too, and the death will be more impactful. It’s just a matter of making sure you do it in a way that’s faithful to the story and not gratuitous.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post made me giggle. Would be excellent to take a survey of different writers’ search history and see what comes up. I know “how long does it take for a body to decompose” would be one of mine. 😉

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  3. It’s just not fair! Though I have to admit I’d read a story about pioneer Jeb getting killed by a runaway VW. It would have to be a time travel story, and I always thought it was weird that no one accidentally gets killed by the time traveling device. (More blood and guts!)
    Doree Weller

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  4. I did think “killing your darlings” was about having to cut well-crafted scenes because they just weren’t necessary for the story. Another aspect of writing that sucks, I suppose. All that work and nothing to show for it!

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  5. It’s a punch in the gut when a beloved character dies. I’ve killed off a few of my characters, though it’s usually very hard, even when I knew for a long time this was coming. I ended up very surprised at how emotional and choked-up I got when killing off a secondary character during the Great Terror in 1937 in the USSR. He’d always been so annoying, obnoxious, and self-centered, and yet ended up redeeming himself in those final days.

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    1. I definitely know that feeling. And even when you go back and re-read the scene during editing and revision, it brings tears to your eyes. Even when they have to go, and you know it, it’s not easy!

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  6. I confess that, as a reader, I appreciate it when an author kills of her main characters (well, when it makes sense I guess). Sometimes, however, they can “Game of Thrones” too much!!

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  7. I think this phrase can mean a few things. Certainly the “killing a character” as you describe but, for me, it stays in my head when I edit. Often I’ll have a sentence or even a paragraph or longer that I love, have worked on for a long time and think is well crafted but it doesn’t serve my story so I have to “kill it”. It’s always painful. WeekendsInMaine

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  8. JK Rowling said she agonized for weeks. George RR Martin seems to find it easy. On the supernatural horror I’m working on I have had to write a few “departure” scenes. Having not died myself, I struggle with how the character should react

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    1. I had a character shot once (she didn’t die though) and, never having been shot myself, I did tons of research and read stories from people who had. Since then I’ve actually had people who have been shot tell me the description was spot on! I’m so happy that Google exists!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I want the experience of it, and if you do this theme again, you should have E be Experience… that writing forces you to experience new things and get overly excited by them, despite none of your friends seeming to care.

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