when your darlings live

On WritingNimue and I are binge watching a popular drama on Netflix. No, I’m not going to tell you which one. Suffice it to say, it did very, very well.

To a large degree, I understand the show’s success. We’re in season 3 of it now, and several of the characters are compelling. Certainly, the premise of the whole thing is brilliant. However, I had an epiphany last night while we were watching an episode. One of the characters in particular has out-paced her relevance to the plot. But, she’s a key character. The actor playing her probably had a contract for multiple seasons and everything. So, even though it would be better to kill her off or let her fade away, she’s sticking, and the plot is taking all kinds of nonsensical twists and turns to justify her continued presence.

This is what happens when you don’t kill your darlings.

Look, I get it. I’ve been there. You have a character, and you love him/her, and you want them to stay. You really do. But when you insist on keeping one of your characters to spare yourself the pain of losing them, the story invariably suffers. I’m sure it hurt JK Rowling to kill off Dumbledore. (Um, oh yeah. Spoiler alert! Don’t read that last sentence if you haven’t read all the Harry Potter books!) But she did it anyway. The story demanded it. His willingness to sacrifice his own life is pretty much the only reason we don’t hate him for offer up Harry. (Think about it. How smarmy would Dumbledore have been to lead Harry to slaughter while saving his own skin?)

My point is, don’t contort your story to maintain a character, even one you love. Let the plot go as it wants to. Kill your darlings. Better that a main character, even one you really dig on, should die than live and suck all the life out of your story just by sticking around.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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