It may be time to kill one of your characters. I don’t mean giving them a sudden heart attack or a misstep in front of a bus. I mean if you’re stuck, really stuck, on a scene or plot point and have been for a while, it may be that one of your characters just doesn’t belong in this book, and needs to be written out.
Maybe you’re thinking, but I love him/her. That’s what I thought a few years ago, when I wrote a beloved youngest child out of my second novel (and my protagonist’s life). Or maybe you’re thinking, Thank God. I really have no idea who this character is anyway, which is what I thought last week when I wrote my protagonist’s current husband out of my novel. Or maybe you’re thinking, Hmm. How do I know? which is what I think several times a day when I’m in the early stages of a book.
“Killing your darlings” doesn’t always mean killing beloved sentences and paragraphs, or doing away with brilliant plot twists that go off-track. Sometimes, it means letting go of a character you’ve thought about and written about and crafted for months. I have done this with every novel, and in every case it’s made the book better—tighter, more focused, richer. But how do you know if and when a character has to go?
When writing dialogue for that character feels like a chore. I don’t know about you, but for me, writing dialogue flows pretty freely. When I write dialogue I often feel as though I’m transcribing the words to a conversation I’m witnessing—only the conversation is taking place in my head. One character wouldn’t be caught dead swearing; another can barely get through three sentences without tossing in a swear word. One character talks in short, staccato rhythm; another tends to over-explain. One character interrupts often; another is fond of long silences between statements. I know when I get stuck writing dialogue, it’s because I can’t hear a character’s voice distinctly, and if I can’t do that, there’s a problem. [Read more…]