Sunday, February 5, 2012

Killing Your Darlings

When William Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings,” he meant to take out the wonderful sentences, the sparkling paragraphs, the powerful descriptions that do absolutely nothing to advance your plot. If you love it beyond reason, it doesn't belong.

While acknowledging this admonition, I am using it in another sense. I mean, literally killing your characters.

It wasn't hard to kill the villain in my unpublished historical novel. He was a bully and a rapist, an opportunist and a cheat, and he deserved what he got.

It was a lot more difficult to kill off one of my characters in "Angels Unware." But someone had to die to show just how precarious Kat's (the heroine) position was. I had created them, I had grown fond of them, and now I had to kill one of them. But which? The young mother, Mindy; Barbara, who finally followed her dream; or Reva, who found her love late in life?

It wasn't an easy decision.

Then there is the method. Sometimes the answer is in the story and the death, while unforeseen, is a logical outcome. Or it can come as a shock. In "A Question of Boundaries," one villain's death is unexpected and jarring. This death is immediately followed by another equally shocking -- not by its timing, but by the method.

Or maybe not, if you recall the hero's special gift.

I don't have to kill any of my characters in "The Lunch Club" (coming soon!) although there is one in particular I would have liked to have done away with.

How about you? Do you find it brings you to the point of tears when you realize that one of your beloved characters must leave? And when you make the decision, how do you decide the manner in which he will make his departure? Sweet and poignant or sudden and brutal?

Let us know -- we're wondering.


  1. I didn't kill off a main character yet...but I did kill off her husband-and her angst made me cry.

    1. It hurts to kill a character I've worked so hard to create and that I love.
      Like you, the bad ones, not so much. I planned to kill them at the start.
      How I kill them depends on the story.
      I try to go for impact.

      Thanks for the terrific post.
      It's a keeper.

  2. Hi Sandy--I do my best to remember they're only chacters. :-)

    1. Hi Sandy, sounds like my kind of guy.


  3. I cried myself to sleep and when I forwarded the scene to my critique partners...well let's just say they were upset with me to say the least. Of course they demanded a rewrite. Didn't happen. The story had to take the sad twist in order for the ending to have the impact needed to bring everything to a close. Haven't been back to do edits on it yet, but I'm sure it will hit me again. A favorite "little darling."

  4. I don't have a lot of death in my books. It's hard no matter who or what the character is though. In Perfect Dr. Viv I had to kill a dog. It was hard. Heidi was a beloved pet of a seven year old girl. But how her death was dealt with led the h/h to become closer in the long run.

  5. Robin is wrong! They aren't only characters! lol Since I use military special ops characters, I will have to have someone die but I haven't come to terms with it yet. How can I do that to someone I love, adore, and fantasize about? Who? Can one of my heroes just lose a limb instead? Kristie already lost a husband - it wouldn't be fair. And the list of objections could go on and on.

  6. I killed off lots of good, kind, people in Skye Dancer! But then again, somebody had to go - since it was about a serial killer! If you don't get too invested in a character, it's easier to let them go. But you really can't do it to a main character or your readers will want to come and murder YOU! smile