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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Being Mean

Being Mean

William Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings.”

It is usually assumed that Faulkner was talking about killing off favorite characters or even just making their lives miserable. In fact, he was also referring to the necessity of cutting scenes/dialogues/characters that the author loves – but which do not necessarily add to the work.

Which one is harder for you?

I find it easier to cut my own words – to give up scenes or bits of dialogue I love – than to do mean things to my characters. Hey, I can always write another clever scene. But writing scenes that cause real pain to my characters? That’s hard.

(Yes, I know my characters are not real. I discussed that last week. But they hurt all the same, and I know this because I have to write their hurt.)

Some great characters in We Hear the Dead die, and I hated it – but I was writing a true story, and what happened had already happened a long time ago. In works where I have greater authority over the fate of my characters, I find it a lot harder to bring down the axe. I don’t like to make them miserable even when I know it’s going to work out for them in the end. One time, after I poisoned my favorite character, I stayed up all night writing the subsequent chapter, unable to sleep until I’d made certain he was going to survive the ordeal.

I bring this up because – as I contemplate the upcoming events in my WIP – I think I’m going to have to hurt some people. In fact, I think I’m going to have to break somebody’s heart — and I’m going to have to shoot someone. And I’m not going to like it one bit.

For the other writers out there – which would you rather do: Cut your favorite scene? Or hurt your favorite character?

11 Responses to Being Mean

  1. salarsenッ says:

    All in all both are difficult. I think it’s all in the way you approach it, though. Hurting a character doesn’t seem to bother a ton, but killing one off…ooh, I haven’t had to do that yet. Not sure how I feel.

    I do find cutting dialog/scenes that are good but don’t truly contribute to the story hard. Yeah, I need to get over it. I’m learning.

  2. Candyland says:

    I’d rather hurt my favorite character. If it hurts me, and I feel the pain of what they’re going through, maybe others will too.

  3. I’m fine about cutting anything, but I have to let things ‘live’ for a while in the book. So sometimes I wait a week or so before I cut something that I know is extraneous.

    I know that whatever I cut is still around somewhere–in my cut file, in my head, in another ms…

    It’s funny–there are two main characters in my novel, and one is a bit supernatural, and I have no qualms about hurting her character, but stay away from the boy. The ‘real life’, MG human boy. He’s one of my kids too. I think I have some issues to get over… Oh, well. He’s got enough troubles in his ‘life’.

  4. Becca says:

    I think it’s harder to cut than to hurt my characters. I don’t know why. I just know I got really excited when I realized the only way to end the story was to kill off some of the characters. And now I’m having the hardest time revising it.

  5. Apparently I’m a big wimp who wants to protect my characters above anything else — LOL!

    Clearly I need to toughen up. Okay — *rolling up sleeves* — I’m off to rip the heart out of the character I like the best …

  6. Hurting characters stinks BUT its part of the experience. It’s life- what we’re trying to reflect and it must be done. So I wallow in it. I put a lot of emotion into my characters and scenes and if its a negative emotion, like you, I write through it to a point where I feel a little better and then move on. So I guess I’m better at deleting uneeded description, dialogue, and scenes.

  7. Jen says:

    Stick the knife in my heart why don’t you! I would say hurting characters is what I would prefer, I know that I must hurt them to allow them to grow the way I want them too, knowing that in the end they’ll survive makes the experience easier. I had to kill my main character in on of my stories for a reason, that was super hard but once it was done I realized it was the best option!

    Great post 🙂

  8. Linda G. says:

    I’d rather hurt my characters. In fact, I’ve become downright sadistic about it. No pain, no gain.

    Okay, I’m not really that hardhearted. I feel for them, I really do. But if everything is always sunshine and butterflies for them, where would the story be? Stuck in namby-pamby Boringville. Can’t have that! 🙂

  9. It is so much easier to cut my scenes than make it hard on my characters. Cut cut cut those words is what I have been saying lately. In fact, words are a dime a dozen but characters they are special. Maybe I should roll up my sleeves too!

  10. In my latest YA, I killed a character who I loved. I was in a bad mood for awhile afterward. I broke two hearts (and a third if you include mine) and still hate myself for it but it had to be done. I put my characters into seemingly impossible situations every chance I get. But I also lighten it up with humor. It’s tough but I do it because that’s the story. I feel your pain and completely understand it. You’re an amazing writer, and I’m sure that no matter what you do, it will be what’s best for your book. Blessings, Buffy

  11. Sri says:

    Agreed with everything said here, sometimes I gotta remember my writing is more about the characters than showing off my prowess – haha and then snap off a particularly flowery line or something.