One thing we authors often hear is “kill your darlings.” This usually refers to the parts of our books we really like but may not work in the larger context of the story. That could include certain elements, tropes, or favorite characters.
But some authors take a different approach to this. I asked Andy Peloquin, author of the Queen of Thieves series, about killing his fictional characters. His answer was not what I expected…
Hey Andy, when necessary, how do you kill your fictional characters? How does it make you feel?
Lisa, I’m so stoked you asked me this question. It’s been one of my most and least favorite parts of the books I write!
I’ll give you a bit of context about my stories: I write epic fantasy with a dark twist, and I’ve never shied away from killing characters when necessary. However, I don’t approach killing characters lightly. The deaths have to serve a very specific purpose.
As an example, (I apologize for the spoilers), there are a number of important character deaths throughout the three books of the Queen of Thieves series. Not only do antagonistic characters die, but people close to the protagonist that helped to shape her into who she needs to be meet their end.
In Child of the Night Guild, we’re introduced to Denber, an older thief who takes the protagonist Ilanna under his wing and serves as her “older brother” character. Basically, he makes it possible for her to succeed; he protects her and watches over her like an older sibling would.
But by the beginning of Thief of the Night Guild, I knew that relationship wouldn’t work to take the character of Ilanna where she needed to go throughout the second and third book (Queen of the Night Guild). If she had an older brother figure watching out for her, she would never be able to stoop to the depths of violence and savagery that was necessary for her character arc.
So, I knew Denber had to go despite the fact that he was the most beloved character from Child of the Night Guild. I got a lot of hate mail from my beta readers (and some fans) when they read about his death. But they all agreed that keeping him alive wouldn’t suit Ilanna’s story. And the fact that it’s her story meant that Denber had to go, no matter how much as we all hated it.
I didn’t shy away from killing him because it was integral to the plot. His death deprives her of the emotional and physical support system that she’s had throughout the previous book. Thus, when she is confronted with challenges later in the second and third books, she has no one to stop her from going down the dark path, no one to help her face the challenges. She has to solve all her problems, showing her true strength as a woman without a man to help her.
Killing my favorite characters is something I always consider when writing a novel. I have to decide if the character would be better served by remaining alive or if their deaths would complete the storyline more efficiently. It turns out my body count of important characters is surprisingly high!
Recommended Article: Andy Peloquin – Excerpt from Traitors’ Fate