Saturday, January 28, 2017

Writing Tip #19: Killing Your Darlings and How to Deal with it

Any writer new or old knows the famous Stephen King quote: "Kill your darlings." What's a 'darling?' Any character, scene, word, chapter, or even full-length novel you wrote. No, not your actual darlings or loved ones, just the fictional ones.

What does he mean by "Kill your darlings?" Simple. KILL THEM ALL. Sorry. I had a Spartacus moment. Anyway, yes, King means to kill whatever you might feel is super important in your novel and yes, sometimes even your main character. Why? Lots of reasons.

When you kill a character you instantly invoke some kind of emotion in the reader and making your reader emotional is your goal. If they feel nothing then you're not doing your job. Then there's the whole dealing of the death of a character your other characters have to deal with and that will give you conflict. Plus hey, there's a cool death scene to write.

When you kill your scenes, certain words, or full chapters then you're tightening up your writing. You have to learn to read your writing from a reader's perspective. You have to learn to read your writing as if you've never read it before. You have to disengage yourself from every word, scene, and chapter so you can make your novel the best it can be. What does it do for you? Makes you a better writer. Plus it puts less strain on your editor.

So, how do you deal with killing your darlings?

First off you have to take the initial step in actually, you know, killing a darling. Start small: take out a few unnecessary words then take out a whole scene, maybe even *le gasp* a chapter. Honestly dissect your writing, look it over word by bloody word to see what doesn't move the story along. Once you find that non-consequential bit: take it out.

What do you do if that unneeded bit is a character? Well, you slaughter them mercilessly while cackling from atop your high tower. Sorry. The imagery helps me.

But seriously, you kill them. Throw them off a building, have them stabbed 27 times, let them get hit by a car, have them beheaded, burned to death, have a heart-attack, whatever makes sense for your world and your story. BUT, make sure the death will be impactful.

Don't go randomly killing off all your characters seconds after you introduce them (I'm looking at you Basilisk). You have to make the reader feel something for that character before you kill them off especially if they're a main character. Minor characters? Eh, not so much though you can and should feel free to try.

How do you know if a character is going to die? You take a good, long look at your story and that particular character. How will the story change with the character's death? What impact will this death have on the other characters? Do you need this character in another part of the story? Can your story survive without them? The deaths in The Walking Dead are all meaningful.

*SPOILERS* Pete's death by Rick's hand shows Rick's descent into madness, how he's become this tragic "survive at any cost" character which is emphasized by Morgan's reaction. Noah and Aiden's deaths reveal how much the Alexandria group really needs to learn. Tyreese's death is the loss of the "optimistic" character. Beth's death is the loss of innocence. *End Spoilers*

Like I said before: every character death has to mean something or move along the plot. If it doesn't then you didn't need to kill that character off. Don't kill off a character to end a series because you think you'll keep writing if you don't kill said character off. You'll have a lot of disappointed readers if you do that. Readers like to imagine what could have been after the series.

So, how do you deal with a character's death?

It depends on the character. You can either slaughter them horribly or have them go peacefully but again if you're not feeling something then your reader won't. Every main character I've killed I've felt something for. Yes it hurts. Yes I was balling like a baby as I wrote. But guess what? My readers will do the same.

So, buck up, take a few breaths, and kill the darling. Feel free to cry. Don't worry if you have to stop to get some semblance of sanity back. Do it. Kill your darling because it'll make you a better writer.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments.

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