Nearly every writer is familiar with William Faulkner’s infamous advice to kill your darlings in writing. In general, it’s never really taken at the face value to mean to kill off your characters, but rather as a way of saying that cutting out some particularly beloved aspect of your writing will ultimately make it a better piece. Today, I use it in the former fashion, as I sit here and have been spending the past few days contemplating whether or not to entirely drop a character from a book.
I realize I’m becoming more merciless with this sort of thing; there were a few characters in Serpent in a Cage that were getting their parts greatly reduced, and now I’m thinking of taking someone entirely out of The Unknown Scourge. What makes it even more interesting is that, while characters I’ve cut in the past can certainly have a richer, better life somewhere else in a different work, I’m really not sure this one will have a reincarnation elsewhere.
Her name is Adah MacKlout, and she was a long-lost sister and potential love-triangle instigator. As a poor street urchin, her main purpose, I think, was to help show how depraved and impoverished Analisia City had become. She was supposed to be a tragic note in the story; just when things start to look up for her, just when it may seem that a different life might be possible for her, she dies horribly without fulfilling those dreams.
TUS. Not the cheeriest story I’ve ever written, no.
But I was thinking about how I introduce Adah and how she fell into place with the grander scheme of the story, and I realized that I actually think she’s weighing it down. This is the third time (perhaps fourth; who’s counting?) I’ve attempted to write this book, and I’m just about to the point where I usually introduce Adah. And I got to thinking: what if I don’t? What if I take the story in a different direction? Instead of the train having to stop because Adah threw herself in front of it and Tobias being late to his meeting because he had the lucky task of holding her back, what if he gets to his meeting on time, we learn of everything going on in the world pretty much straight away, and the story continues Adah-less? Her being reunited with her brothers seems pointless now, too; if I wanted a sibling relationship, Wolfe and Silver already have that without adding her to the picture, really. In all my reasoning, Adah truly is standing out as a character who really doesn’t need to be there.
And so now I try writing it without her. It feels a little like abandoning an adorable kitten on the side of a busy highway, but I do know I’ve tried several times to write this book. Maybe killing this darling is the way to finally break through the eventual block and get the damn thing finished.
Have you ever had to make the decision to drop a character entirely? Did they find a new life in another work, or was trimming the fat and forgetting about it entirely the best course of action?