When the killing part isn’t so easy.
Every writer hears ‘Kill your darlings’ at some point, whether uttered by editors, agents, beta readers or friends.
‘That chapter’s got to go,’ they say.
‘But I spent ages writing it,' we say.
‘Yes, but it’s a better story without it.’
‘Yes. It adds nothing. And while you’re at it, get rid of Tom.’
‘But he’s based on my brother.’
‘Yes, you can tell you’ve shoehorned him in there. It’s beautifully written and I’m sure Tom will love it but it doesn’t work.’
‘But I spent ages on Tom.’
‘I know, but he needs to go.’
This is how these conversations go (often we have them with ourselves) and the suggestion to cut something is almost always right. As an editor who reads and advises authors on their novels and non-fiction, I never hesitate to suggest someone kill off their darlings. ‘Don’t delete,’ I say. ‘Cut and add it to a file of kills. Something you can work into something else. A character that will have her own story. A plot twist that becomes a short story.’ Nothing needs to go to waste.
I am currently about 90% of the way through the first draft of a new novel and I’m at the point where I am about to kill a darling, but with a twist: I’m not deleting this character, Noel, or consigning him to a drawer in case I can use him elsewhere; he’s actually going to die. That’s his story arc. I am not rewriting his ending.
I’d love to give Noel more chapters. I’d love to write scenes for him that begin before my story starts. I love his moods and outbursts. I love his apologies. I love the relationships he has with his colleagues. He makes me laugh. He makes me cry. I’d like us to be friends.
I’ve already done a rough sketch of his final scene. I know when it’s coming and what I need to do to give him the ending he deserves. I know it will make me cry, even though I’ve chosen this path for him.
In my first novel: God & Dallas, one of my main characters was always going to die. I cried buckets when I did the deed. It’s going to be the same with Noel. Which is why I’m putting it off, saving that scene till the end although it isn’t the end of my story.
I’ll let you know how it goes.