“Kill your darlings.”
If you’ve been in the writing game for any length of time you’ve heard this quote. Some people attribute it to Allen Ginsberg, others to William Faulkner, some believe Stephen King said it. The earliest known use of the phrase actually came from Arthur Quiller-Couch, who used it in his 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures “On the Art of Writing.”
Regardless of who said it when…the context of the quote is the need for writers to be relentless in the editing of their work…to eliminate unnecessary fluff…to get rid of every paragraph, sentence and word that doesn’t contribute something essential to the story.
Given the work of King, Faulkner and the others, I’d say it’s advice worth following.
I think I may have taken it a bit too literally while working on a short story this week. The story will be included in my upcoming anthology tentatively titled The Path of a Bullet. The stories in the anthology will focus on my anti-hero, Ike. Most of them will be written by me and there will be a few written by other writers who happen to be fans of Ike.
As I was writing this particular story I decided to kill one of the characters who has appeared in all of my books.
The killing wasn’t necessary.
I could have made the story work without having a good character meet their demise.
It also wasn’t gratuitous.
I think the story is much better because of it.
Either way…it’s still tough to kill one of your darlings.
When I wrote my first novel, Living the Dream, I created what would inadvertently become a cast of characters who worked together to right wrongs perpetrated upon innocent people.
The unlikely band of Samaritans is led by the aforementioned Ike, an ex-Navy SEAL who has a tendency to bend the rules a bit in order to see that order is preserved. As one reader described him in a review… “Robin Hood on a Harley.”
Ike is the right-hand-man to a wheelchair bound bookie named Ralph Donabedian. Despite the fact that Ralph is, for all intents and purposes, a criminal, he is the unofficial mayor of Flagler Beach. Nothing happens in the small beachside community unless he allows it.
Whenever Ike needs help he calls on his best friend, and resident bad-ass, Brewski. With ties to a local motorcycle gang and a bit of an attitude problem, Brewski tends to lean toward a shoot first, shoot again, have a cigarette, and then ask questions policy. Fortunately, Ike keeps him reined in…most of the time.
Perpetually perched on the back of Brewski’s Harley is Didi—a wise-cracking, chain-smoking, no-nonsense biker-bitch who would like to slap the stupid out of everybody (because everybody is a dumb-ass).
Making fewer appearances than the others, but nonetheless an important member of the group is Bob Butler. Another close friend of Ike’s, Bob Butler (who is always addressed by both his first and last names, never one or the other) is an honest family man who turns a blind eye to some questionable tactics out of respect for Ike’s motives.
So, as I was saying…I recently wrote a short story for my Ike anthology and I decided that it was time to kill one of my darlings.
I’m not going to tell you which one, you’ll have to read the book to find out. For now I’ll just call them “X” (pretty dramatic, huh?).
I will tell you this—it’s not Ike – that would be like Elmore Leonard killing Raylan Givens…Robert B. Parker killing Spenser or JK Rowling killing Harry Potter.
Moving forward I’ll have to figure out what, if anything, I should do to fill the void left by X. Fortunately writing books is not like cooking. If you don’t have a key ingredient required by your recipe you could end up tipping a driver for delivering your meal.
With books, the loss of a character does not have to be the end of the story. In fact it could lead to a new, maybe even better story.
I guess we’ll find out when I write my next book.
Between you and me, I’ve already got an idea of how to move forward and I’m pretty sure it will be a seamless transition.
In the meantime, The Path of a Bullet is scheduled to be released before Christmas. My beta-readers have enjoyed all of the stories so far, so I’m sure you will too.
As always – thank you for reading