Should You SAVE Your Darlings?

“Kill your darlings.” This advice, quoted by writers all over the world but lent gravitas by the one and only Stephen King, is fantastic direction for your novel, 99% of the time.

But what about that other 1%?


Truth: There’s a character in my latest work in progress that will. Not. Die. The idea for this particular work opened with this character dying, the skeleton of the plot of Act I assumes she is dead, and dead is how I planned for my protagonist to get to know her.

And yet.

Driving home from work one day, I happened upon a radio or news broadcast, I can’t really recall, that discussed the victims of strokes who fall into comas and eventually pass away (I think it was a National Stroke Month awareness campaign).

And yet.

Suddenly I was struck by a mental image: My main character, an older sister, in a hospital room. A younger sister lays in the immaculate white bed. The plot swirls around the two of them. Suddenly, my dead supporting character had life in her. And it all made sense.

She was a darling of the plot, and yet, I could not kill her to fit where I thought my novel was going. Instead, she stayed alive, and my work in progress is following along in her footsteps.

Rookie Murder Mistakes

I think I was making a rookie mistake. Sometimes, I think that new novelists tend to wield death a bit too cavalierly. It’s an easy way to generate motivation for lead characters (see also: Women in Refrigerators) but can feel senseless to the reader if revealed too early, or used too often, or without any kind of emotional through-line that ensures their deaths have some sort of meaning in your noodly little universe.

Killing off my supporting character (which happened in pretty much the first paragraph of Act I) was a mark of novel-writing newbishness.

Do you have any characters who are fighting to stay alive, in the recesses of your novel-writing mind? Do you think you should follow the time-honored advice, or wield your literary axe? Share in the comments.