Killing Your Darlings: Can I Get Therapy For This?
So, my dear friend, Kristen Strassel, tells me I have to kill people. And I don’t know how I feel about this. Well, actually I do. I HATE IT! I created these precious characters, who have been gestating in my mind, for YEARS and shortly after breathing life into them I’m told I have to kill my darlings? Really?
Naturally, my first thought is to switch gears and write for soap operas. No, really. They never have to commit to killing anyone because anyone can come back from the dead, and I mean anyone. They can put someone in a casket, lower it into the ground, have a nice ceremony and some time later, the dude in the casket pulls a Criss Angel and finds his way out of the box. Whad’ya know, they’re not dead after all. Does anyone remember Bobby Ewing in the shower scene? (No, not “Who shot J.R,” the other thing) You know, Bobby Ewing, the patron saint of the Ewing family on Dallas who died, but then later, he wasn’t dead, because he couldn’t be dead, because dead people don’t usually take showers. Did I mention it was all a terrible dream? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
I have a feeling my novel will be the next Novella on Telemundo? It’s perfect. The only time soaps kill a character off is when an actor totally pisses them off. (Soap opera character deaths, the kind that stick, seem to occur only to characters played by really obnoxious actors. Am I the only one who has noticed this? Joey Tribbiane’s Drake Ramoray + tragic fall down elevator shaft, anyone?)
Back to Kristen, you would think that a woman who writes about immortal characters would have an appreciation for what I’m saying. Why should my darlings have to die when hers rarely do? But, no, she wants me to kill my darlings. And even worse, her Undead Duo coconspirator, Julie Hutchings, is ready to kill off some of Kristen’s characters. What is going on with these two? Perhaps they have spent too much time dealing with immortality of vampires. I imagine spending years thinking about the psychology of the undead makes you appreciate the realities of life and death. Or maybe they are just hateful, awful people. Can I get therapy for this? Is this why there are so many people in therapy in Hollywood? Remorseful, murderous writer/producer/director types with blood on their hands who just need someone to talk to? Does my HMO cover this?
So here’s the deal, intellectually, I know that killing your darlings is inevitable, and even important, especially in the worlds that I’ve created. That being said, I decided to let this go for a while and not worry about it until I had to do it myself. So, I put it on the backburner, until, last week.
Last week, the day finally came. I had to kill my first darling. There were two shocking things; the first is that this is a character that I never expected to ever kill off. Ever. I thought of this character as a family historian of sorts, someone who had many of the answers that the other characters would need, and he connected all of my major players together. Convenient right? I started writing and realized that I needed to kill him. I just knew it was the right thing to do and it blew my mind, how easy it was. It made the story so much richer and added a complexity that I really needed. After all, having him live was far too convenient to me as the writer, and therefore robbed me of the drama making I’m supposed to be doing. I started to appreciate why good writers do this. I really thought it would be far more painful, and far less gratifying. I guess killing your darlings isn’t so bad after all.
Earlier this week, I started working on another story. This story begins with the main character losing someone close to her. I conceptualized this story knowing that I would be dealing with this character’s loss. I knew this, and yet, it broke my heart to a million pieces when I revealed his passing. Broke me. This was a darling, who was never meant to be seen in anything other than a memory or a flashback.
This simple act of revealing a loss broke me, so much so that I stopped writing as soon as I killed him. It was such an emotional experience for me. I can see this man, feel his warmth and was torn by the loss of his soul to my newly created world. His love for my main character and the sacrifices that he has made for her made me mourn for him. Deeply. And then I realized, I never actually killed him. There is no scene that shows him bleeding, grasping his chest or struggling for breath. We simply know that he has left this world and yet I feel like I watched him die.
If only I could have used that intense rush of feelings to write. But I couldn’t. I just needed to go to bed and save it for the next day. Truth be told, I have yet to go back and deal with that particular scene. It will happen eventually. In the meantime, I’m doing what I have to do. I’m writing the rest of the story, the parts that reveal why his loss was significant and why we should care. Maybe that rush of emotion was put to good use after all.
I guess if being God were easy, we’d all have that job. Little by little I’m learning about being a writer, and with that, being god of my worlds. Sadly, this includes the inevitable passing of a beloved creature that came from my soul and killing more darlings in the future.
Here’s to killing your darlings and the many therapy sessions that will follow.
* In this blog entry, darlings, refers specifically to characters. It’s my understanding that darlings can refer to anything that you are enamored with in your own writing (scenes, wording).