Monday 22 January 2018

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Killing Your Darlings


We all get attached to our characters. We all know way more about them than is written in the books themselves. It's part of being a writer, when creating new worlds, you create with it, new people and breathe life into them. Of course, if you're writing a crime book, or in some cases, any other book that brings danger and risk to their lives, you might actually have to one day...kill them.

Now some writers will love it, and others won't, and where you fall doesn't really matter. The point of this piece is to let you know that it's okay to 'kill your darlings'. In fact, not killing them can actually ruin your story. Think about it, you're reading a dystopian and no one on the good side dies. They all live to see the end of the war and that's it basically. While it may seem like a happy ending, it leaves the taste of unbelievable luck on the part of your protagonist and their side. In the middle of a war, or battle or whatnot, people are bound to die, and some of those people will be characters that you have nurtured and loved from page one. It's just how it works.

Of course, on the other side of things, you don't have to kill absolutely everyone for dramatic effect. You need to choose your deaths carefully because after a while, the death loses impact. In the books I've written, they're mostly crime, and yes, characters on both sides end up dead. The hell I've put Tara through should be case in point considering how many deaths she's witnessed. On top of that, there have been times when I've had to kill a main character. I won't tell you which books, because that ruins the fun for those who've not read them.

Early on in my writing career, I would agonise over who was going to die and who was going to survive. Especially when it came to the Dying Thoughts series. As time has gone on, I've found it slightly easier, but there are still some deaths that haunt me as it were. While a part of fiction will be choosing these deaths so that they have a big impact, other parts will be deciding who simply slips away off page. When writing my first dystopian trilogy, I spent a lot of time trying to work out who was going to make it from chapter to chapter. There were a lot of battles and a lot of pieces that would have an impact on the ending I had chosen. There was a lot of back and forth about who would die and who would survive to the end.

That said, there were a couple of people who have survived in the first draft that may not in the final draft. The point is that some of their deaths have to mean something, and some of them need to die on the page for that to happen. The author who coined the phrase 'killing your darlings', William Faulkner, was very much right. Not every character will make it to the end of the story. In some genres that's less of a risk than in others, but in the crime genre, it's a big risk. When going out and fighting crime, tracking suspects and putting yourself in the firing line, there are bound to be some close calls, and there are bound to be some more than close calls. It's something of a necessity that eventually someone who's used all nine of their lives ends up paying the ultimate price. This can be tricking if you write in first person like I do, but I found ways around it.

My top tips are basically this: Is the death necessary? Will it further the plot? Will it not happening degrade the story? If you've answered any of these with a yes, then you need to seriously think about killing that character. I've talked about killing characters before (found here) and in that time have explored a whole new genre that has given me a different perspective on the matter. In writing the Lights Off trilogy, I learnt more and more about what a necessary death was to keep the story moving and the story believable.

So those are the three questions I now ask myself. If I can say no to any of them, I'll look again at what can be done. But sometimes the time comes for you to let the chop happen and allow your character to die a peaceful (or not) death.

What are your thoughts on killing characters? Have you ever done it? Do you have tips for people? Leave them in the comments below!

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