Kill Your Darlings

Photo by Melanie Deziel on Unsplash

Developing our characters is what we do as writers, but they can also be trouble. Maybe you created a particular character to be so annoying that you never want to see them again. Perhaps they’re so crucial to your story that you can’t even think about killing them. But, what is the best way to deal with a character who won’t die?

You could kill them off, get rid of the complications, get rid of their jealousy, get rid of their significant other, or get rid of their nemesis. However, there is another way to remove them: replace them in the story with another character.

Imagine in a story where you assassinate the villain in chapter one, and in chapter two, the hero is in their place. It’s a relatively simple trick and one used in many stories—but you can’t suddenly add in a new character in chapter three, and suddenly they’re the hero. It should be natural.

You kill your darlings when you decide to get rid of an unnecessary storyline, character, or sentences in a piece of creative writing—elements you may have worked hard to create but that must be removed for the sake of your overall story.

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The question is, how do you kill a character off? Do you do it in the first few pages? Do you do it in the last few pages? Do you do it in the middle of the book? Do you do it in the middle of the series? Do you do it in the middle of the story? Or somewhere else? What parts of the story should you kill off? How do you know when it’s the right time to kill your character?

This list will give you a starting point on how to consider developing their removal from the story’s movement.

Good Reasons to Kill Your Darling

  1. Plot development
  2. Fulfills the doomed character’s personal goal
  3. Motivates others
  4. Recompense for the character’s actions
  5. Emphasizes theme
  6. Creates realism
  7. Removes extraneous characters

Bad Reasons to Kill Your Darlings

  1. Shock value
  2. Sadness
  3. Removes extraneous characters

But wait, you ask yourself, you included “removes extraneous characters” twice. It’s because it works for both!

Sometimes, you develop your cast of characters, and you realize a character has served their usefulness. Or maybe they’re not, but they’ve become so integral to the plot that your readers are going to notice their absence.

You don’t have to kill your character off by the end of the story. That’s just an easy way to force action. You can kill them off or not bring them back at any point during the story.

Or you can kill them off at the end without it being the climax of the story. But whatever you do, don’t do it because you think you have to. Do it because it serves the audience’s expectations.

In conclusion, killing characters off is a difficult skill to develop, but it is possible. You can kill characters in many different ways, whether they are main characters or minor characters. I hope you will be successful in your endeavors to kill off your characters.

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Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of color, but you may also know her as the host of the Raconteuse Radio podcast. Her work has appeared in Nevada Humanities and Helen. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally if one could call living there normal. Follow her on Twitter.

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