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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