Kill Your Darlings, Literally

As with any craft, there is an abundance of advice out there for writers. And, as with any advice, writers are free to either follow that advice to the letter, (ha, ha), discard it completely or bend it to suit their purpose. One piece of well-known advice, for which the great William Faulkner has been credited and has always fascinated me, is: kill your darlings.
The following story explores bending this advice. A writer often becomes attached to a character, after-all they are his or her creation and the writer is reluctant to cut them from the story. This can cause actual pain. At the same time, for the sake of authenticity, the writer must adhere to the specifics of the genre in which they are writing.

Kill Your Darlings, Literally.

“How do you feel?”
“How do you think I feel? I’ve been fatally shot. Dead!”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“You should be sorry. Why?”
“Why were you shot? Because that’s the storyline. This is the climax and I need you gone for the story to move on and for Laura to move on.”
“But Laura and I were working through our issues. How did you put it? ‘Connecting, rebuilding our lives, our relationship becoming stronger than before the betrayal’. Why did I have to be shot?”
“As you may recall, you selflessly confronted the burglar and he shot you and now Laura is faced with the ordeal of life without you.”
“I get that, but why fatally shot? Why not just injure me? I could be in the hospital on life support with Laura by my side day and night, etcetera.”
“Ah buddy, I understand how you feel, I really do but this isn’t a romance novel, is it? It’s chiller-thriller. The narrative has to shock the reader. Your sudden death is the pinnacle point in the narrative and the turning point for Laura. She’ll miss you, she’ll long for you. You’ll be in her thoughts daily. Don’t worry, you haven’t been completely erased.”
“How about this, I’m seriously wounded, I’m on life support for days or weeks, and when I pull through, I return home a helpless invalid. Laura, in her loving, womanly ways restores me, kinda like our relationship. It’d be like a parallel theme. You see that in books loads of times.”
“Yeah, Nah, that wouldn’t work.”
“Why not?”
“For one, your version leans towards soppy-sappy romance. It’s missing the hard edge grit of chiller-thriller. And two, Laura wouldn’t be free to meet and fall for Dastardly Dan, would she?”
“What, she’s going to meet someone else and me not yet cold in my grave?”
“Oh, I’ll give it a few months, say six months max and allow her to go through the whole grief process – the loss, the anger and everything.”
“But she could grieve as I lie helpless on my invalid bed. After all, having an invalided husband, there’d be a degree of loss and anger for her and for me and what’s to stop her meeting this other unsuitable chap. Having administered my medications, she could easily slip away from my bedside to pursue a clandestine relationship. In my opinion, my version is much more chiller-thriller, plus another layer would be added; the secrecy and guilt Laura has to carry.”
“Absolutely not! No! Laura’s not that sort of woman, is she? For all her beauty and the attention she attracts from the opposite sex with that voluptuous body of hers, she’s pure and true and honest. Remember how badly she was affected by your betrayal? You should know Laura’s purity and strong principles better than anyone, after all you were married to her for eleven years. I’m shocked you even suggest it.”
“Okay, I take your point but with this brutal act you haven’t considered the three fatherless children in this narrative, have you? Take the eldest, poor, unfortunate Harvey. With all his social awkwardness he’ll need fathers guiding hand as he heads into adolescence. And chubby little Maggie will need a strong adoring male – in the form of her father – to reassure her that she is lovable just the way she is and as for Leonard, well he’s still young but there’s bound to be something. He is showing some autistic traits, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, maybe. Autistic traits could provide an interesting element. Perhaps the death of his father triggers the autism into manifestation. Note to self: research autism. Certainly worth pursuing, thanks buddy but as for your death, I can’t change that. I’m sorry but it really has to be this way.”
“Yeah, right, you’re sorry? With the stroke of a pen or in your case, the tap-tap-tap on a keyboard you can wipe me out just like that. How do you think I feel lying here in this pool of sticky, congealing blood, hah?”
“Congealing blood, that’s good. Mind if I use that? You know, in another life, you could be a writer, too.”
“Whatever. How you can so easily caste aside this character, me, whom you’ve created, whom your reader audience strongly empathise with, I struggle to understand.”
“There comes a point with any creative literary works that one must kill-off their darlings.”
“Ah-ha, so now you’re quoting the advice of the great William Faulkner, only you’ve got it wrong. It’s kill your darlings, not kill-off your darlings, you imbecile!”
“Steady on there, Buddy. No need to get so worked over some incidental technical point and this outburst are totally out of character for you. Remember, you’re the chilled dude, the laid back dude, not the guy who explodes irrationally.”
“I’ve every right to explode. I’ve been shot, fatally!”
“Of course I know Faulkner didn’t literally mean, ‘kill your characters’ but… .”
“No buts about it. His advice referred to extraneous plot lines, pointless prose, excessive backstory, and unnecessary scenes. Seriously, have you even completed a basic 1-0-1 creative writing course?”
“Neither is sarcasm one of your character traits and yes, I have completed an online course. I fully understand and agree with the intent of Faulkners’ advice and once my draft is completed, I intend to follow it.”
“You’ve invested so much in me and hence so have your readers. You’ve created this likeable, very handsome rogue with a few rough edges, but he’s not irredeemable, whom female readers swoon over and male readers long to be. They are hooked on me. I congratulate you on this achievement. But by killing me off, they will feel the loss, deeply.”
“Exactly! When you die, the readers will feel the loss, your death will shock them and they will be bereft, hence, as J.K. says, killing the main character will deepen the reader’s emotional investment.”
“Oh, so now we turn to the great J.K. and if J.K. says its okay to kill off your main character, then that’s what you’re going to do?”
“It’s not personal buddy. Believe me, your death hurts me as much as it hurts you, in fact, it probably hurts more, after all, you are my creation.”
“If I’d known your cruel plan, there’s no way I would have come along for the ride.”
“Hmmm, well I can only apologise once again and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your invaluable participation thus far but you have to go, I do have to kill you.”
“Heartless! Totally heartless, that’s what you are.”
“Shush. Laura is swiftly, quietly, descending the stairs. She’ll be by your side in a moment, cradling your splattered head, kneeling in the congealed blood pooling on the floor, weeping and wailing. You’ll gaze into her eyes, your eyes will momentarily lock, then your eyes will cloud over, your eyelids flutter, and your mouth open as to speak but the only sound will be agonised throat gurgle as your life is extinguished.”

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