Character Assassination

I don’t really like killing people.  I know, it’s weird, right?  We’re talking fictional people, here, just to be clear.  Not that I enjoy killing real people, either.  Please don’t call the FBI.

Last night, I finished up Chapter One of The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun, which might not seem like a big deal to anyone, except that my chapters tend to be about 10,000 words long (11,545 to be exact), so it does sort of represent a significant investment in time and plot effort.  After my Eureka moment a few days ago (uh, weeks ago?), things started to pick up and the ideas have been flowing.  Peachy keen.

But I had to kill someone.  I hadn’t planned on it – I had wanted to make this person a significant character, but all of a sudden, when I got to a certain point, I realized that she absolutely had to kick it in order for the story to move forward in a meaningful way.

I sat there staring at my screen for a while, trying to weasel a way out of it.  I liked this woman, a lot, and she hadn’t done anything wrong.  It was unexpected and she didn’t really deserve it, which was why it had to happen. But that’s what made it hard, of course.  I get very attached to my characters, even the minor ones – especially the minor ones, sometimes, but that’s a different post – and it’s hard for me not to put myself in their shoes.  I end up kind of grieving for them in a way, which is tough.  That’s both a good thing, as an author trying to create richly drawn people, and a bad thing, as a reader who hates when my favorite people get knocked off (I can’t even begin to list all the times that this has happened to me).

But after I wrote the scene, I had one of those very intense, very hard to describe moments of writerly agony.  If you’ve experienced it, you’ll understand, but if not, you’ll think I’m a crazy person (as if you don’t already). It’s one of my favorite things about writing, but also one of the hardest to deal with if you don’t have other storytellers to talk to about it.

You know when something really dramatic or tragic happens in your story, and you just get that heart-squeezy feeling of oh-my-god-this-is-so-good-but-it’s-so-sad-and-I-want-to-tell-everyone-so-they-can-feel-as-awesome-and-sad-as-I-do-right-now?  You find someone and try to explain just how much it means to you, but they just give you that blank stare and escort you back to your padded room?  No?  Okay, fine.  The straight jacket is in the closet.

That happens to me a lot.  It happened more when I was a teenager, reading and watching all the stories that would help form my personality.  I took everything so seriously, in that overly-dramatic adolescent way, but it all meant something to me.  It didn’t mean anything at all to the people I tried to share it with, and that was character forming, too.  Unfortunately, it taught me to shut up and keep those things to myself, because others found it tedious and boring, and they started to dislike me because of it.  It’s taken me a long while to realize that I’m allowed to like what I like, damn it, and to seek out people who do enjoy the same things, because they are out there.

So that was my little experience last night.  I just thought I’d share.  Now it’s on to Chapter Two and the aftermath, so stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Character Assassination

  1. I just realized two chapters ago that one my own characters has to die, and it’s tearing me apart inside – I actually started crying about it the other day. She wasn’t supposed to be the one, but someone has to and it’s the pivotal point of the novel that sets the stage for everything to come. I just hope two things: a) that it doesn’t make my eight-year-old cry when I read it to him, and that b) everyone else will. It feels so impossible to know what the connection will be with your reader when you’re done.

  2. Whenever I have to kill a character, I try to mention them as much as possible in the later pages…and depending on the type of story, I have been known to try and find a way to bring them back. So yeah, I completely understand what you mean.

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