Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Am Not A Murderer

The art of killing off a character.

This may surprise you, but no one is more shocked than the writer when a character has to die.  You can feel it coming as you begin plotting out that next book.  Then you’re lying there one night, going over dialogue in your head and it hits you, like a cinder block on your chest.  They’re going to die!
You then think about this for days.  Does it have to be this way?  No, I can’t do it!  But it has to happen, it’s where they are headed and I can’t stop it!  After all, I’m not really creating this world; I’m only documenting it as I see it.  I have no control.  I must tell the story.
Then comes the writing.  Every time that you play out the scene in your head you get teary eyed.  You dread seeing the words on paper, because that makes it too final.  Finally ou reach that scene, take a deep breath and continue.  As the moment approaches you begin to cry.  You’re shielding your laptop from the tears, afraid this scene will be the one that shorts it out.  Your spouse, who has been wondering why you’ve been moody for the past week, now comes in to find you wiping your nose and sniffling.  “What’s wrong?”  They finally dare to ask.  “JoeSmith died!”  You reply, bursting into tears.  “Oh.”  Spouse leaves the room, officially certain that you have lost it and wondering if you would react the same way over their death.  They don’t understand.
You loved that character.  From the moment they showed up in your head you have nurtured them, supported them, thought of them night and day.  They are a part of your world, or even more, a part of you.  Then, ‘poof’, gone.  That life that no one will ever love as much as you did is snatched away.  You wanted to stop it.  You wanted to go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing, just so you could selfishly keep them.  But you couldn’t do that anymore than you can predict your own final day.  In the end you have to accept it, learn to adjust, learn to write on. 
Maybe, if you write their story well enough then everyone will get to meet them and love them, just as you did.  Then it hits you!  Your readers are going to hate you!  They will be there, falling in love, then bam – they will HATE you!
So the next time you are reading a really great book and falling in love with that amazing character, just to have them snatched away in chapter 18, don’t be mad at the writer.  They loved that character too.  They wanted to save them, and they tried.  But even writers are limited.  You take this creature, vivid and living in your head, and you let them out into the world.  You do everything you can for them, but once they’re out there and their story is playing in the words on the screen, there is only so much you can do to direct them.  They have a life to live and a path to take.  We have to let them make their choices and follow where life takes them, even if that somewhere is the great slush pile in the sky.
Don’t hate me because my character died!  I only documented their story…
Forgive me…


JEFritz said...

I know. Sometimes I have deaths planned out well in advance and then it happens and I wish it wouldn't. In one scene, I wanted to save one character but kill another, but no matter how much I tried, it didn't seem right.

Christauna Asay said...

This is a post after my own halt. Writing thrillers it is a question one must face on a regular basis. Very insightful.

I left an award for you on my blog. Go there to retrieve it. :)

Julie Geistfeld said...

Thanks for the award Christauna

Jennifer Hillier said...

I feel your pain. But like Christauna, I write thrillers so somebody usually has to die. Sucks every time.

Anonymous said...

Ever since I watched (and read a bit of )'Misery' by Stephen King I've been scared to kill off major characters

great post!

Katie Anderson said...

It is so hard to inflict misery on characters you've so lovingly created. I actually get tears in my eyes every time I go over the 'sad bits' in my WIP. A little bit lame? Yes, but I suppose it shows that I really do love my novel-to-be!


Julie Geistfeld said...

Thanks for all the great comments. It seems like no matter what your genre we all have to come to this point eventually.

And Katie - I had a hard time with one of my books, couldn't see the words I was typing I was crying through so much of it! So I hear you!

Of course my first reader was crying a whole lot too, so I guess that character had been loved by more than me. Helped to ease the pain some too.