To Kill Your Darlings.

As a writer I get satisfaction from making readers fall into my character’s world. To experience their highs and lows, their laughter and sadness. There’s something I love even more though, and that’s to make a reader love a character and then I kill them.

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To kill your darlings. This is one of the most universal aspects of creative writing. In all of my manuscripts someone dies. Spoiler Alert! Yep. They might not even be a bad character, they could be someone integral to the story and then, bye bye. Dead. Now, I can’t go around with my red pen and slash at the page, killing of the main character or the antagonist at the beginning of the book. Well, because there would be no book. Obviously. But it’s inevitable that change has to occur and it can be through death.

This also has something to do with that fact I love writing gut wrenching emotion. The kind that leaves me in a pool of my own tears, in the hope that if it makes me cry, then it will make the readers want to hurl their brand new kindle across the room without thought of the damage. Hey, what’s a little cracked screen between friends right?

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Perhaps it’s a lazy tool. I mean it’s pretty easy to kill someone and have this at your plot point. It will guarantee that the protagonist will have to change, because death is an obstacle no one can overcome, unless you write paranormal/fantasy fiction. Then all bets in the death department are off. Death isn’t final. I’ve got one of these in the works, and it makes everything harder, if a character can’t/won’t die or stay dead, then you have to get even more creative if you want to elicit a dramatic emotional response from the reader.

There are other ways to kill your darlings. There are things that can happen to them that are worse than death. Death is final for the character and you can’t really kill your protagonist. Well, you can, you’re the writer, you can do whatever you want. Don’t let me stop you. I always think cheating on a partner in a story, is worse than the death of a character.  In that it forces change, away from a relationship, it’s a major turning point, if that’s the character’s journey. I hate reading about cheating, and I have written about it, and it rips my heart out every time.

Some of my favourite books have the characters being tortured, and it’s all in context, generally in period fiction focusing on Ancient Roman, Greek or Egyptian fiction. I don’t like writing about it and I tend to skip over those pages when I read them, but it can be used as a way to kill your character’s spirit while leaving them alone, or to force a dramatic shift in their character arc.

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I don’t really know how to kill someone. Which is a fabulous thing, because I’m not capable of it. So, I google more creative ways a person can be killed or drugged with specific poisons or weapons. I don’t want to think about people seeing my search history. The last thing I typed into google was – How to drug someone and make them immobile but still awake – I’m a writer. Also, hot tip, only go to creative writing forums or medical journals. There are some murky waters out there when you are researching this kind of thing. You’ve been warned.

So to kill or not to kill your darlings. What do you prefer to read or write?

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30 thoughts on “To Kill Your Darlings.

  1. OMG the first paragraph had me dying laughing! But I loved this read, I felt as if I were really reading a book and it was just really inspiring! Maybe you can take a look at my blog that I’ve recently started and I’d be happy to exchange likes and and follow

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  2. Pingback: Being kind is hurting my writing! | Lisa Lancaster

  3. Great piece. You make me think of the show I’m binging on on ‘Pretty Little Liars.’ I’m not sure if all seven or eight seasons are good but three and four have been terrific. It’s very interesting in relation to your piece, the girl Ali, best friend to these four other girls, we think she is dead until her friends really start seeing her,and not just in their dreams. Not to mention, how all these people in this small town are connected to her. Some of them die and some of them like a favourite charscters of mine’s boyfriend, gets shot but ends up living.

    I’m also writing a paranormal romance book. And with both characters thought could die, neither did really or for long. Even the antagonist comes alive again in book 2, a redeemable character. But I see how it is necessary to move a plot forward, that sometimes darlings must die 🙂

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  4. If I would write a novel I would love to create drama through killing the characters. A good novel needs a lot of drama. When you feel depressed after finishing it. I guess you can say you’re on the right track! 😀

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  5. Your post reminded me of the main character in one of my off-line stories. He’s had a hard, miserable life. Main bright spot: finding the one woman he loves and who loves him in return. So, of course, I had to make him leave her in a life or death situation, which gives him severe guilt issues. He has long term hopes of going back and rescuing her, but at the end of it all, he’s going to find out that she’s dead. Yep. Deader than a doornail. Courtesy of my SuperCreep villain.

    Sad to say, it just has to happen. But I still feel bad for him. I really wanted him to get together with his true love at the end, but there’s no way that my villain would let that sort of thing happen. 😦 Plus, it’s like a big pivotal moment in his character arc. So, see? It just has to happen.

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  6. I kill darlings and I cry and cry. My husband doesn’t get as worried anymore as he used to. 🙂 You gave some good examples of character-kickers that propel change. And yes, those internet searches! I’m always researching weapons, wounds, how long it takes to die, decomposition rates, etc. A writer’s repertoire. A fun post, Lisa.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lol at murky waters, I’ll believe you.
    As for killing a character I have never had an issue with it, if anything I have the reverse problem. I can see how people who have written trilogies and beyond have a tougher time as the characters are such known quantities, but over a short story, or novel I don’t have attachment issues.

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    • I don’t have a problem with killing them either, it’s the reaction I’m after from the reader. I’m sure other writers do have trouble with it unless you’re George R.R Martin. I love reading your short stories especially the ones where someone dies. Also, I’m still creeped out by Gone Fishing, which is a fabulous thing.

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