K … is for Killing

K[1]

is for killing. I am talking here of ‘killing your darlings’ of course. It’s how we writers normally refer to reducing the cast in a story.

In either novel or short story writing, we find ourselves lavishing hours on the creation of well-rounded, believable characters, which is exactly how it should be. A novel will have the capacity to allow for a large cast, whereas a short story is best trimmed down to five or less characters.

Where the novel usually has a longer time scale, it is able to convey a larger number of characters. A short story, by its nature, is created to fit a short time frame, and there is therefore no facility for a cast of thousands. The fewer, the better is the advice in a short story.

Whatever I’m writing, I tend to create each character with a comprehensive profile, even though I may only use a little of the information if it’s a short story. In a novel, with a similar character, I might drip-feed small pieces of information throughout the story. Be it a novel or a short story, I invariably end up with more characters than I need to get the job done, so in that circumstance, I ‘kill my darlings’.

The phrase is borne of the fact that we get to know our creations so well that we are reluctant to remove them. We have grown to like them, to feel a relationship with them, but to be in a story, they must earn their place. If when editing a story, you find a character that doesn’t move the story forward; that character has to go. It’s heart-breaking, I know, but we must be realistic.

I’ve made peace with myself by having a parallel universe in my files. I have a file full of people, already invented, but not yet put to use. There is a pregnant woman in her 20’s, a retired policeman, an old war veteran, and many more. They all get along perfectly well in that file, but perhaps one day a couple of them will meet in other circumstances and things will not be so good.

What is today’s advice then?

Use as much care as always to create believable characters, but please remember, don’t shoe-horn a character into a story just because you like them. When you edit, you are looking for extra characters as well as extra punctuation, adjectives, adverbs and all the other things that should be removed. Happy hunting my murderous friends.

Thank you for reading. I’m off on my daily blog patrol now, and I’ll be back on Monday, with an ‘L’ of a word.

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16 comments on “K … is for Killing

    • Thank you for the read, comment and link Julia. I like the idea of the phrases too. I’ve got WKT on my hit list. Amazingly I’ve just about caught up with all posts from my chosen ones.

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      • I’m jet lagged and keeping odd hours at the moment. I should be fast asleep now, but find that I’m wide awake and blogging! I’m sure my activity will diminish rapidly when I’m home and back at work!

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    • Yes, it hurts when you’ve created a magical sentence or paragraph, but when editing you realise it’s superfluous. I admit to being guilty of the same thing. I highlight the offending section, and then instead of deleting it, I copy it and drop it into my file for ‘useful passages’. I have a small group of files purely for holding ‘cuttings’ of things that might one day come in handy.
      I’m following WKT, so I’ll be checking out that post, thank you.
      Good luck with the jet lag. LOL

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  1. Lol… A very dangerous place is the short story for a character, to be dispensed with at the stroke of a pen. In the novel I read of yours though, you delegate that particularly unpleasant task to the main character, who I must say, showed himself to be more than up to the job.
    When he retires from ridding Glasgow of its undesirable elements, have him become a writer (well, he got the right background); he’d be red lining out characters with ruthless abandon once they outlive their usefulness or interest…

    Sorry, couldn’t resist a little humour in my reply. But yes, it can be quite hard making the decision to ‘dispense’ with the services of a character, especially one that’s played a vital role and in whom you’ve a investing a lot of time and effort in creating.

    Personally, I quite like killing people off, especially in short stories (I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with me); in fact, thanks, that’s just given me the idea for a short story spree killing…

    Looking forward to… L.

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    • Thank you for dropping by again mate. Yes, I’m sure Phil from ‘Beyond The Law’ would have a field day with a red pen and a manuscript, but I have to admit, I prefer him with a loaded 9mm automatic.
      Did I mention by the way that I am already making notes for a sequel? I’ll get the Amsterdam story and anthology out of the way first.
      I’ll keep an eye open for your latest.

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      • I knew from our chat at the publishing conference you had already formulated some ideas for the sequel, but nothing concrete other than acquiring some special skills (presumably in the REME?). Am delighted to hear those are now taking some sort of written shape!
        Cheers…

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  2. Tom thank you for stopping by and posting a comment for each post, I know the time involved, and it is appreciated! I just read each of your posts and I love the subject of your challenge. (but I’m going to be lazy, I mean efficient and leave one comment.) I’ll try and do a better job from this day forward!

    If only such resources had been available when I first started writing. Of course, computers weren’t even available then! LOL

    You’ve done an excellent job here, and I’m now a new follower.

    ‘Killing our darlings’ is key to a good and sometimes a great story. Game of thrones comes to mind – although, it may be the extreme of the case, but for cable it works. I’m still debating the killing of a MC in my current series but am finding it an emotional roller coaster – to the point of considering doing two versions of the ending. Is that avoidance or smart?
    Thanks again for your support!

    Yolanda Renee from Murderous Imaginings

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    • It brought a smile to think of you suggesting you were being lazy – using one comment. It would only take one visit to your blog to see that you are far from lazy. Too much effort goes into your research and links, which is all time-consuming.
      I appreciate you checking in.

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  3. My post is about Killing Darlings as well!

    Of course, my WP post is fiction, for which your tips would come I quite handy 🙂

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    • Thank you for the heads-up on that post. As a follower, I’ll be over your way today on my blog patrol. I completed the NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago, but thanks to you, this is my first attempt at the A to Z.
      I’ve learned several lessons, which in due course I will share with anyone who should drop by. It will quite possibly be a post-A to Z Challenge post.
      It’s nice to see your face and comment on here; it lends my blog a bit more credibility.

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    • Hi Damyanti. I read your ‘Killing’ post and wanted to leave a comment, but couldn’t see where to click to do so. I will try at a later date (internet access is a bit erratic at the moment and can be very slow too). Loved the way we get to see so much about those characters, their history, their nature, from the small window you give us. Each of your A-Z posts so far hold the germ of a full novel.

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  4. I’ve found with children’s books, you also have to work with a limited cast of characters. That can be challenging because you know, realistically, the same five people wouldn’t be involved in everything…kids do talk to people outside their family and close friends, especially at school!

    Visiting from the A to Z Challenge signup page. Great to meet you!

    Stephanie Faris, author
    30 Days of No Gossip
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

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    • Hi Stephanie. Thank you for the visit and insightful comment. Not being in touch with children’s books I’ve never looked at the topic that way, but you are so right.
      I’ve probably kept my children’s stories in mind as things like ‘Tom Sawyer’, or ‘The Famous Five’, so there would be little thought of a big cast.
      Nice to meet you too. I’ll get over your way for a peek. I’ve already completed my blog patrol for today, but I have enough concentration left for a quick visit.

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  5. I’ve been under the illusion killing your darlings was when you go through the manuscript and cut any sentence you thought was ‘amazing darling’. Hmm.. I need to pay more attention and will ponder this one..
    I might have too many characters in one of my novels. Many thanks for popping by, enjoy your day off and see you at L.

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