11 June 2023

Off With Their Heads

Sounds really gruesome, huh? And I'm not a horror writer, but dang I have killed any number of  character. I'd hate like the devil to reread my books and short stories and do a body count.

We often dispatch a bad guy or two towards the end of a story. Give them their just desserts, so to speak.

But what about the opening? You can kill a character in the beginning, sometimes because it's a rather hateful person that needs to die. Then as a writer you can come up with several suspects in order to unravel the case.

Sometimes, to make it harder for your professional or your amateur sleuth to solve the murder, you knock off a character in an unusual way. Like perhaps nicotine poisoning. Gives a nice plot twist to your howdunnit.

How about the feeling of power you can get? Killing a character you've created.

Here's something my award winning mystery writer pal, Rick Helms wrote recently about killing.

I just spent fourteen pages building a fleshed-out, sympathetic, likable character.

Then I fridged that SOB and sacrificed him on the Altar of Plot, because I can.

Writers are like minor deities. We manifest whole worlds --nay, entire universes-- inside our heads and rule over them both lovingly and capriciously as it suits us. Then when suitably irritated, we smite thousands with guiltless abandon, but we also have the power to say, today, nobody in our world dies and everyone gets laid. We thrust perfect strangers together to become tortured lovers, and then, just for shits and giggles, we separate them for years. Sometimes, our own creations bring us to tears, even on the twentieth reading, despite our omniscient knowledge that they would do so, because that is exactly what we crafted them to do.

Writers are the creators and destroyers of worlds.

It's a pretty fucking awesome way to kill an afternoon.

Perhaps we destroy a character or scene or even a chapter. Many years ago, another award winning mystery writer pal, Max Allen Collins spoke at a con and if memory serves, he even wrote a book, titled: Kill Your Darlings.

The premise was sometimes you write a character or a scene, then upon rereading it, you know it doesn't work. It doesn't ring true.  Doesn't move the story along. And although you love, love, love the character. You just highlight that paragraph or scene and click "delete." Or if you just can't stand to kill the whole scene, copy, print it and put it in a "kill your darling" folder.

So tell me have you  chopped any heads off this week? Did you kill a darling? Or was it some despicable character who just needed killing?

 Or do you kill because you just love that feeling of power? Of playing God in a world you've created?

 Just confess and most likely I'll pardon you.


  1. A 'Kill Your Darlings' folder… I like that.

    I've killed a few, but my worst bad guy, patterned after a truly awful stab-your-back office 'worker', I can't bring myself to kill him. Instead, I want to torture him over and over again.

  2. Jan, in Blogger's list of articles, the photo next to your title "Off with their heads" shows only the upper half of your head. The lower half is entirely … off.

  3. Leigh, I'm not in charge of my photo. Rob is. In fact, I sent the article to him last night after and opened a file with my name so he could post it all for me. Which he did.

    1. Jan, it was all Blogger. Rob did fine. I was merely amused that it went 'off with your head'.

  4. I admit it, I've killed quite a few people in my writing career. Sometimes it's necessary for the plot (I mean, if we're going to catch a serial killer, there's gotta be some bodies) - but other times, yes, it's fun. Because you've got this complete a**hole, and twist it around, and down they go. Ah, well. At least I keep it on the printed page.

    1. Of course, Eve. I understand. Sometimes I tell a friend, " I know 27 ways to kill you and get away with it." Okay, maybe not 27 ways, but I do know at least 4 places to hide a body where it will never be found.


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