On killing your darlings

I’ve had two demonstrations of the phrase “kill your darlings” (William Faulkner, I believe) this week, so I want to talk about that. I think there’s two targets of the phrase; killing your writing, and killing your characters.

Killing your writing

I had a “kill your darlings” moment in Biscuits, from my wonderful editor friend. I’d added a lovely piece of description, and it was nice writing. But it wasn’t needed, at all, and so out it came.

It’s hard to do, I have to admit. It’s very hard to do. I’ve got files for almost every single piece of writing that I’ve done that contain odd sentences, paragraphs, even entire sections. It’s bits where I like the phrasing but it doesn’t fit; it’s plot that doesn’t quite work; it’s a lovely piece of writing that’s too lengthy or too boring or simply can’t stay. I keep the pieces in an effort to make it hurt less – and actually, I do sometimes go back to them. But taking out a piece of your work that you thought was good, and you like…ouch.

So: just do it. Your editor (whether yourself or someone else) needs to be ruthless. It may be lovely writing, but if it doesn’t work in the story – kill ’em all.

Killing your characters

I had a discussion last night with our GM for the Dresden Files RPG. He’s got his own character, and I’m stealing a casefile at some future point that’s intended to let this character play. And while we were discussing some of my plans, he commented that he was astonished that I wasn’t going all-out to kill the character – which possibly explains a lot about our friendship, or maybe just how we play the game…

I had two defences to that. One is that it suits the plot better to not try to kill the character; the entire casefile’s set up to give him a chance at something, after all, so why kill someone if you don’t need to? But the second reason hurt to realise: I don’t want to try to kill him. I like him. I’ve got a great deal of affection for the complete and utter bastard: he’s fun to write, he’s fun to play with, and I don’t want to wipe all of that out without a sensible reason. I did promptly get laughed at because the GM is quite happy for his character to die, whereas I’m the one having issues potentially killing him!

But killing characters is hard; killing your own characters is hard, and killing someone else’s has its own problems. You create them, you live them, and then you have to kill them off? That hurts. The way I see it (with my own writing at least) is that if I don’t want to kill them, but it fits the story – DO IT. You’ve got affection for the character, which means the reader does. Go for the gut-punch, go straight to the emotion. I re-read some of my old writing a few months back and I teared up when I killed someone – which then made me grin. I’d dun good!

So…kill your darlings. But only if you need to.

Names, names and names

So…names. Specifically, personal names.

I always find it weird when people say, “Oh, you don’t look like a [insert name here]”. I mean, what does a [insert name here] look like? Do you have a certain set of criteria that a James, or a William, or a Siobhan, has to fit? Do you have one person in mind who has set your view in your mind already? Why do certain names conjure up certain things?

And yet, with my characters, their names form them. I have to get the name right for the person in my head; I do usually have a bit of choice, but I know when something isn’t right. When I’m creating new characters, I flick through names (I use the Fantasy Name Generator), and usually come across something that fits…but some characters have spent a period of time as XXXX or —- because I don’t yet have something that fits the personality in my head.

If I change a character’s name, it changes their personality. When Ben changed to Toru (waaaaay back when the story first changed to a fantasy world), it made him a different person; some of the traits are the same, but he also changed. In Madcap Library, someone has commented that they aren’t sure about “Duster” – but what other name would a Sloth have? He’s certainly not a Robert…Archibald, possibly, or something equally silly.

However, I admit that sometimes, the change of name doesn’t change the character. Chris went to Catter with no problems; S’ian went from X’ian with only a minor change in her role (although the story did change her, so maybe that was what led me to accept it). Sometimes the change can work with the character in my head…and sometimes the character needs changing, so the name has to change too.

So…with ordinary names, I don’t have a template in my head; I’ve met so many Matt’s and Bob’s that I don’t have an image of what one should be like. But I know that Moel fits her name; my new character in Trust & Treasures doesn’t yet have a name because I don’t have one that fits him. Names are really important to me, and they do influence the character a lot.

Just an odd insight into my head…

The next chapter of Greensky

I was considering what the future of Greensky looked like. I know that S’ian and Rael currently have one child – Alid – and that her growing up process would be difficult. But I was pondering a few days ago, and the family began to unfold inside my head. There’s three children; Alid, her brother Tomo, and their younger sister Reya.

Dark-haired, dark-eyed, quick laugh.
Healer. Affinity for water, but no official Mage talent (could this show up in Healing somehow?)

She’s likely to move out to the Plains, and work from there – she’d be in a small community, having moved from the big city (Aleric). I can see her in our current house; a stone-built cottage, odd and unusual, with a roaring fire and sparklights. She’s standing at the door, light spilling out from behind her, and smiling down the path at the guest hurrying through the rain to the warmth of her home.

Takes after Rael again – dark-haired, dark-eyed.
Mage – probably Earth? Rael is Water, S’ian and Toru are Air.
Quiet and reserved; always in the shadow of father/mother/Toru?

Struggles with status; maybe rejects family for a few years? Always apart from them, trying to be separate; doesn’t exactly rebel, not trying to blaze a path, but just wants his own way apart from them.

Reya (or Aya)
Small, quick-tempered, fierce, stubborn, angry – not sure where her talent lies.
Has Toru’s engineering talent! Likes taking things apart to see how they work. Seen as destructive to start with?

I’m not sure what Reya’s path would be; I think she’d be a character who wrote herself as I gave her writing time.

My other interest with these characters is what would happen when Toru, Rael and S’ian died. Reya would be the most affected, and the most interesting – I think she would get Toru’s talent through an echo of her mother’s soul-bond (although it’s doubtful that they’d know that), and to lose that…and it would be bound up in grief, and the world changing. The deaths would be a shock to the whole family, and would be very interesting to play out in the context of the rest of the world.

I really want to start writing them; I really want to know what they do! My problem is that I don’t know what their world looks like. I’m still creating it as I go – I’m not able to look ten, twenty, thirty years into the future to see what spark’s done, what the fliyers have changed, what technology has done to my society and my world. I’ve got to keep my children in my head, and wait to see what their world turns into.

Character building: A scruffy notepad, and a pen with a chewed end

In a world with technology and many popular alternatives to pen and paper, why is the notepad still being used?

Is it a particular brand? Cheap? Plain?

What size? Lined or plain paper?

Why is it scruffy?
– Not cared for? Shoved into pockets? Pieces torn off for phone numbers instead of business cards? Dropped and sat on? Ruffled and forgotten?
– Well-used? Too many notes? Well-thumbed for just that one name, that one detail?

What are the notes inside likes? Sparse notes for show, with the occasional useful word? Lines of text with extra scribbles added in the margins, corners, edges? Are there doodles?

Why is the pen chewed? Force of habit? Nerves? Instead of a cigarette? Trying to look cool?

Is it a cheap biro? An expensive pen? A refillable one – environment-conscious?

What colour? Blue or black? Red? Green?

Has the lid been lost? If so, where’s the pen kept so that it doesn’t leak?

How often is it used? Pulled out every two minutes? Fiddled with and put back? Ignored until that vital piece of information?

…so from the simple start, we actually got quite a lot of character questions!

Based on a quick character blast I did with a friend’s private investigator/detective character – and we then did that for every detail he’d thought of! It created a lot of scribbles and I hope quite a lot of avenues to explore.

Blog Hop: Jamie Rowell – work in progress

23/06/2014 22:07

Jamie Rowell is a member of the Swindon Freewriters, and a writer of fiction and fantasy. One of his current works in progress is a novel of magic and drama, titled Silverlight. He doesn’t currently have his own blog but I’ve read the first few chapters of Silverlight and it’s awesome, so he’s agreed to give some more information on what it’s about…


1. What is the name of your main character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Her name is Jasmine Knight, but she prefers Jazz. She’s also fictional.

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set in modern times and is an urban fantasy setting, and as for the story, it’s a fairly global story, with parts in England, Russia, China, South Africa and North America. So, fairly localised and contained, as you can imagine!

3. What should we know about him/her?

She’s a bit hotheaded and antagonistic, has a sly sense of humour, and is extremely sarcastic. On the flip side, she does care about her friends a lot, and isn’t too horrible to them.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

The main conflict for Jazz during the course of Silverlight is that she’s lost her memory due to various events, and that she’s also a necromancer, which she can’t remember anything about. Necromancers in the Silverlight universe are feared, as most of them have done horrible things and started wars in the past, so whenever a new one comes up, every wizard tends to try and crack down on them.

As of the start of the story, there’s only two necromancers on the planet, Jazz and a guy named Ramirez, and Jazz wakes up in a burning building with very few memories. As a result, she tries to get her memory back by visiting her old university, only to find everyone massively suspicious of her and not really able to help her, and it’s just great fun to slowly torture her mentally by having her constantly wonder, “Did I do horrible things too? How bad was I as a necromancer?”, all whilst everyone is booing and jeering from the sidelines and trying to kill her off as well at times.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Her main goal is to recover her memory and discover just why she woke up in a burning building that had collapsed around her. She’s trying to piece her life back together, because whilst she can do magic of some kinds on instinct, she’s still struggling to remember what made her unique.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

It’s called Silverlight, and I can occasionally chuck out the first few chapters for someone to read if they want to.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Whenever I finish the damn thing and send it off to a publisher!


There you go: it’s a book I’m definitely keeping an eye on! If you want more information on SIlverlight, let me know, and you can find more information on the Swindon Freewriters on their website.