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?