Kill Your Darlings

So…I didn’t end up completing NaNoWriMo. Again. And let’s be honest–I didn’t really try. I finished my third pass of revisions by November 10th or so, but sometimes a body just gets SO EXHAUSTED that it’s like getting the flu. Everything shuts down, emotionally and physically, and you can barely get out of bed. The worst part is, we somehow have to find a way to let our bodies do this, and heal.

Thank the Water Gods for Netflix.

I love watching full seasons of TV shows at a time. They’re fun and pass the time…but it’s difficult to see ten of them and not have the writer brain consider dialogue, pacing, and plot structure. This month, I’ve learned quite a bit from two shows: How I Met Your Mother and Grey’s Anatomy.

HIMYM is, at its heart, just a really fun show. But if one considers everything those writers cram into 22 minutes, it’s nothing short of brilliant. Recursive plot lines and comedy, all while moving forward (slowly) the central basis of the very long story Older Ted is telling his children. In 22 minutes, every piece of dialogue has a purpose.

So should our novels.

Grey’s Anatomy is a 43 minute show, which gives them a lot more time for relationships and Long Looks With Puppy Dog Eyes. It is difficult (if nigh impossible) to pull off The Long Look in novels. As authors we default to describing what we believe the character is thinking at that moment. While watching the show, this is something we are forced to infer from the actor’s microexpressions. (Or lack thereof.)

GA also invoked what many people think of as The Whedon Rule: At some point during the episode, someone will die. It’s possibly going to be out of left field, and more than likely going to be a character with whom you are incredibly sympathetic. Even if you’re NOT emotionally connected to this character, sometimes the death itself makes you love the character even more.

It’s a bit of a game, when the show starts, attempting to deduce who’s going to kick the bucket so everyone else can live. There are no guarantees the rest of the cast will arrive at the end of the episode unharmed, but it’s a safer bet.

I’ve never liked killing off my characters. It’s not really something that was ever done in fairy tales, and when it did happen, those folks tended to have some sort of influence beyond the grave. (No matter the retelling, Cinderella’s story doesn’t work without the absence of her mother.)

These days, your audience will not believe you unless you are more brutal and “realistic” with your characters. This means that people have to get hurt–physically and emotionally–through the course of your novel, and in many cases, someone unexpected has to die.

This means we, as authors, have to off one of the characters we’ve poured our heart and soul into. And that SUCKS.

Why do you think The Whedon Rule is now all but required in today’s fiction?

Have you ever had to kill off a character, felt that you should, or wished that you hadn’t?