Every author, at some point, has to come to terms with killing off their characters. Characters die in every genre (though some have fewer deaths than others), so there's almost no escaping it. Different authors have different emotional reactions to character deaths, and they tend to evolve throughout their lives and between characters. Or, at least, that's been my experience. Sometimes the deaths make you sad, even to the point of crying over your own creation. Sometimes you really, really enjoy it, because authors have sadistic streaks. Sometimes, it's both, in a weird kind of catharsis.
So today I thought I'd talk some about my own progression as I've learned how to murder fictional people. If you're a writer too, share your thoughts in the comments! This post is somewhat inspired by a recent #Ch1Con Twitter chat re: villains.
When I started off novel writing as a wee third grader (though I didn't finish a novel til sixth grade), I was very averse to killing characters. I couldn't even stand to kill the villain. So at first, I creatively avoided this by doing such things as making the villains miraculously recover from a madness caused by poison/possession/disease/etc. or otherwise seeing the error of their ways. (In one of my books, said madness was cured by the magic of pineapple juice!) I figured out pretty fast that, even though this did lead to some interesting plots, it was unsustainable in the long run. So then I went the "pure evil" route, which I figured made it morally okay if I killed off the villain: I mean, Disney does it. You can only do that one so often, though; it gets cliche.
Then in ninth grade, I started writing THE CHOSEN FOUR books, which you may have seen I recently threw out due to the issue of it having a predictable and cliche central plot. I mean, teens with supernatural powers? Check. High school clique drama? Check. A love affirmed by the magical powers of magic? Check. FBI involvement? Check. Convoluted saving the world plot that involves secret cameras and aliens and really makes no sense? Check. There were even green eyes and a love triangle. That's what I get for writing a series partially inspired by a different series by the infamous James Patterson. We're just lucky that none of them were orphans.
Writing that series, however, was instrumental to my development as a writer in multiple ways, primarily in terms of character depth and independent plot arcs, but also with editing skills, researching skills, worldbuilding details, sustaining a plot for a lengthy time, writing in third person, understanding genre guidelines, enjoying having a (very small) fandom, and far more. Another one of these skills happened to be the murder of characters.
Up to that point, I'd never killed a non-villain character or killed a villain who wasn't absolutely the manifestation of pure evil. But for this series, from the beginning, I knew I'd be killing off the teacher figure, Ms. Fwump, because of course you have to kill off the teacher figure, so that the main character can establish heroic independence and stuff. My desire to tell a great story at this point had overcome my need to avoid killing people (ah, the life of a writer), so I went ahead and wrote the most beautiful and dramatic death I could possibly imagine. I ended up crying in my living room, because I am not yet one of the authors who has tea with Satan.
But I did absolutely love that feeling, despite the crying. No, because of the crying. My writing had an emotional impact on me in a way it never had before, and when a lot of my readers responded the same way, I felt like king of the world. Because killing off your characters? It's one of the most thorough and dramatic ways that you exercise your power as an author, which is kind of a thrill.
After that, the dam broke. I went on to actually kill off a bunch of villains in the series who had before been in my first category of "villains where it's not their faults so obviously they don't have to die." That gave me an uneasy twinge, but I knew it was right for the story. Then, in a dramatic climax to end off the series, I killed off one of the main characters... who promptly resurrected thanks to the power of love, which I thought was the most brilliant and original idea in the whole world, and hey, it almost looked like Christ imagery, HOW BRILLIANT!!! I WAS A GENIUS!!! MY FANS WOULD FALL OVER THEMSELVES IN DEEP AND MEANINGFUL TEARS BECAUSE LOVE!!!!
LOL, but the point is that I had finally learned to kill my characters, and it could be super emotional and everything, but I didn't have to feel morally defective about it. I will never, ever be a George R.R. Martin, though. Sorry.
Since then, I've been a lot more comfortable, and occasionally a bit gleeful, about killing off my characters. (I FEED OFF OF THE TEARS OF READERS.) A recent project has essentially revolved around death and the deaths of multiple main characters. And yeah, I always feel bad about it and it usually makes me cry, but, again, glee. So someday, perhaps, I shall attain the level of tragedy espoused by J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, John Green, and perhaps even Steven Moffat. Regardless, I'm happy to say I am now, as a writer, comfortable with death.
Thanks for checking in, guys! Hope you enjoyed that, and I'll see you next time for our May humor post!
Images via schuckthetruckup on Tumblr and [my own].
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