Killing Your Darlings (KYD)

George R. R. Martin seems to have mastered the art of creating characters that readers quickly connect with, only to have them murdered in a horrifically violent manner. I’ve killed my own darlings in stories, characters I’d really come to enjoy and, dare I say, love. Young, old, beautiful, ugly, our darlings come in all shapes and colors, and saying goodbye is never easy…well, unless you’re coming home from war, then it’s really easy. When we take our darlings to the precipice and choose to not kill them, saving them instead, in some fantastical way, we end up cheapening the story, and almost demand that the reader openly scoff and roll their eyes. This happened in some of the first book series I read, and every time I struggled between feeling happy that the beloved character had lived, excited to read about the joy his/her wellbeing would bring to his/her companions, and cheapened by the experience, like buying an expensive meal only to see a dime-sized filet, lost on your plate. George R. R. Martin seems to have mastered the art of “killing your darlings” (and truly he has), but if you want to see a masterful execution of KYD (see what I did there?), read Where the Red Fern Grows.

You’ve created amazing, loveable characters, and you’ve come to grips with killing some of them off in order to engross your readers and really tug on their emotions. But what about your scenes? Yeah, those entire chunks and chapters of your book. You didn’t think KYD only applied to characters, did you? Killing a scene can make a killing a darling seem like a late-night tweet. In fact, scenes are created in order to kill a darling. They’re integrated into the story, woven like a convoluted network of webs. Changing a single aspect of a scene can require a lot of small changes throughout the chapter, or book; restructuring a scene can often make one feel like Sisyphus, watching the boulder roll back down the hill. Killing a scene is no small easy task, but like the fire that promotes new growth in a forest, rewriting your scene will proliferate new ideas that make your story better.

Buddha’s admonition to avoid attachment rings true for story building.