“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” –William Faulkner
Even though I am perfectly aware of the true meaning of William Faulkner’s words now, as a second language learner I took them very literally for a very long time. It was not easy. I did not want to kill my little darlings (which I at the time took to be my characters). I wanted to write happy-go-lucky stories with happy endings and pretty bows on top. I hate violence so why would I inflict it on my darling characters? It just didn’t make sense to me.
Growing up in to my teens and early twenties I was an avid reader of mysteries (thanks Dad) and these writers definitely killed a lot of their darlings…so should I? Would that put a little more grit and a little less fluff into my stories?
When I started writing The Hawk, a historic/paranormal romance years ago I decided I was going to kill…something. It didn’t take me long to figure out I was not going to be able to kill anything major in the story. In fact I couldn’t even get myself to kill an animal much less a human being. So I compromised. I thought, “Since I can’t bring myself to killing them, maybe I’ll just hurt them a little bit.” I did. I put an arrow through my main character’s leg and had him bleed to near-death. After that I was on a roll. Poor Hawk went on to suffer from terrible hallucinations that crippled him physically and emotionally. In my next novel, In Her Eyes, I put the poor guy through hell and back, victim of a race crime. I was getting the hang of this even though I had changed the old adage to “In writing, you must torture your darlings”.
Neither of the two aforementioned novels ever saw the light of day. They are still in my drawer, half-typed, half-handwritten manuscripts that I may (or not) resurrect someday.
Of course in the meantime I learned the true meaning of that advice and I do indeed spend a lot of my revising/editing time “killing my darlings”, but ever since my second-language blooper I have stuck to the idea that my darlings must suffer…at least a little bit.
In We Will Always Have the Closet, both the female MC and the male go through some scary, life-threatening events. In my upcoming novel, Desert Jewel, I outdid myself and put my poor male MC through hell. In Loved You Always (out for adoption right now) both MCs have their lives turned upside down in more ways than one. And in my WIP, a dystopian romance (yes, it’s a thing)…well, I think the genre says it all.
One thing hasn’t changed. I still wrap all my novels in a pretty bow of hope and promises of a better, very happy future. Do you kill your darlings?