Writing Thoughts: Why It's Important to Kill Your Darlings

Why It’s Important to Kill Your Darlings

Posted October 20, 2021 by Amber in Writing / 1 Comment

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The best books are the ones where well-loved characters die.

Ah! I know, I know! Unpopular opinion alert!  I’ve read so many reviews where readers vow to defenestrate anyone who dares harm their precious cinnamon rolls… and I hear you.  It’s heartbreaking when a character you love dies.  But the best books kill their darlings.

As a reader, it’s fantastic to be surprised when you’re reading.  It can be painful sometimes, but there’s nothing like being so angry you want to throw your book at a wall… but so glued to the story that you can’t put it down.  One thing I’ve never had a problem with as a writer is killing my characters.

I’m as attached to my characters as (I hope) my readers are… but when I write I’m committed to telling my best version of the story.  Sometimes that will mean rescuing the characters, of course!  But I also want to keep my readers on their toes.  I want them to fall in love with my characters and, yes, I do want to break their hearts by letting my characters suffer.  Maybe even die.

It can be really difficult to kill a character you love, even if you know the story will be better for it.  Honestly?  A seasoned reader can tell when a writer reaches those crossroads and choses the character > plot path.  There’s a moment when the book is getting so good… but then it loses momentum.

Killing characters is more than just blood in the book.  And I’m not saying you should kill every character.  Sometimes, it just makes sense… and I’m asking my fellow writers not to resist.  Let the scene happen, however painful it may be.

The loss of a loved one is an excellent motivator in a story.  There are so many orphans as protagonists, and many of them are driven by either vengeance or a desire to fit in that they would not have if their parents were around.  Protagonists who lose their love interests are often driven by grief and rage.  If nothing else, desperation becomes paramount as characters lose those around them.

My personal favorite the symbolic loss of the mentor figure.  This has emotional ramifications, but it’s also a transition.  The death of the mentor is a trope common in fantasy in particular, and the book would not be as powerful without that event.  It’s a graduation of sorts.

Mostly, though I recommend “killing your darlings” if it feels right and taking a chance as you’re writing.  Something as permanent as a character death can be daunting, but I’ve never seen it done in a way that didn’t longterm benefit the story.

And remember, they’re not dead until you see the body. 😉

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Do you think killing characters improves a book (when it fits in the story)?  Would you rather no characters will killed in a book?  Let me know your opinion in the comments!

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One response to “Why It’s Important to Kill Your Darlings

  1. I do see the benefits of letting a character die but sometimes I think it’s wrong. One of the book series I know about had a character’s wife die so that he had the excuse to leave and teach a new student which I thought wasn’t a good idea because he could still have his wife and teach the student. This seems like a dumb motivation. Are mentors not allowed to have a happy life? I didn’t read the series but there were complaints about the wife’s death and how it was a stupid move.

    I’m all for motivation but I don’t think a death should motivate a character to change the direction of his life, it should give him some motivations but it shouldn’t be the only motivation, right?

    I guess it all depends on the character and the story line.

    Have a lovely day.