One “rule” you hear thrown around a lot in writing circles is “Murder your darlings.” Traditionally, this means those pet phrases and over-used words, the scenes you spent hours crafting but that don’t really add to the story. It’s a way of culling your fluff to tighten your story so it continues to move and not drag.
Sometimes, though, it’s used in reference to characters.
Because few things are more heart-wrenching than agonizing over the death of a beloved character.
Death is a natural part of life, and so exploring death in fiction is natural. There are countless ways to portray death in fiction, and countless reactions to it. Walking through something traumatic (or in some cases a relief or a joy or a necessary evil or whatever other emotions are experienced) with a character opens a reader’s eyes to new experiences and develops empathy, and can really draw a reader into the story in a unique way.
Some authors, however, take this to an extreme.
Yeah, I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin.
And I realized that’s one of the things I dislike about the Game of Thrones series. While I enjoy the writing and the world and the realism, I really don’t like not having anyone to root for. I don’t like that literally everyone is fair game. Yes, fiction mirrors reality, and reality often isn’t fair. The good guys die. The bad guys win.
But fiction is also an escape. Fiction is a release. And while I want to experience the emotions of the character I’m reading, I want to have some rules. I want to know that however much it hurts to experience loss with the character, some things are off-limits. I don’t like that Game of Thrones has no main character to follow through the series, and that good never really triumphs over evil, that there’s no “happily ever after.”
Someone who read The Heir was upset by a particular character’s death. And I love that they were so attached to the character that the death caused an emotional reaction.
I murder my darlings frequently. Someone important dies in a lot of my stories. Someone that matters to the main character, someone whose loss is felt deeply.
But there are some things that are sacred. Some rules I can’t break, because otherwise the story isn’t satisfying.
And after all, isn’t that why we read?