Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Pain of Killing Your Characters

by Jean Henry Mead

Ever wonder how novelists decide which of their characters to kill? I was recently forced to kill a character I loved because I had written myself into a corner. I was so upset that I had to stop writing that day. I then remembered something Benjamin Capps told me during an interview:

“Probably no reader of mine ever felt so strongly [about the storyline] or shed a small tear unless I had already done so in the writing.”

Emotional investment in a writer’s characters is undoubtedly what makes a novel successful. If an author doesn’t really care about his characters, why should the reader? But how involved does a writer have to be to make his readers care? That’s a question someone much smarter than I am will have to answer.

I do know, however, that many of us live with our characters 24/7, until the book comes to a conclusion. Then it’s hard for me to let go, which is why I like writing a series. The characters to whom I’ve given birth can age right along with me, unless, of course, I’m forced to kill them off.

After covering a police beat for eight years and writing about the worst aspects of human nature, I decided to write a senior sleuth series. My Logan & Cafferty series features two 60-year-old widows; one a private investigator’s wife, the other a mystery novel buff. In the first book, A Village Shattered, the women are forced to discover the identity of a compulsive murderer, who is alphabetically doing away with their friends. They also discover that their own names are on the killer’s list.

In the second novel, Diary of Murder, I placed them in a motorhome in the midst of a Rocky Mountain blizzard. I had previously killed one my character’s sister, but the reader doesn’t get to know her until her diary is found and read throughout the novel. I didn’t shed a tear until the last entry was read.

I like my main characters because they’re witty and sassy, according to one reviewer, and I could never bring myself to knock one of them off. But anyone who threatens them in any way is in big trouble in my books.


Anonymous said...

I like killing my characters. Then I even bring them back to life. I must have a God complex (LOL)

Jean Henry Mead said...

That's a neat trick if you can get away with it, Marvin.

Cat Connor said...

I killed a much loved character and it was dreadful. I spent weeks trying to re-write so he didn't die, but in the end, it was what needed to happen. I miss him as much as the surviving character does. :)

Annay Dawson said...

I haven't had a chance to kill off a main character yet, only minor ones (at least to me). It did have a profound effect on one of my other characters though. I think it is hard when the characters just won't allow anything else.

Earl Staggs said...

I've never killed off a major character, Jean, and I hope I never have to. Reminds me, tho, that Doyle once killed Sherlock Holmes - then brought him back. And who can forget the it-was-only-a-dream resurrection of Bobby Ewing?

Dana Fredsti said...

Honestly, I get SO mad at writers when they kill my favorite characters...but I can only imagine what that's like for the writer. I haven't done that yet . And I can say I will NEVER kill a pet for any reason. I am a weenie that way.