Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Necessary Death

I sit here, at my computer, having just written for nearly two hours.  My back is beginning to ache and my eyes are unblinking.  My inspirational music plays in the background (Clint Mansell - one of his more depressing songs).  The sky has gone completely dark in the time I've been sitting here, and now the only light comes from the computer.

My heart is heavy.

I have just killed off a character.

I didn't even like him - he isn't supposed to be likable, but he is a good guy, fighting for the good side, so I'm quite distraught over it.

While this is not nearly as terrible as a real death, it still makes me sit back and want to think about it.  Or talk about it.  Therapy, maybe?

You know that feeling when you read a good book (or a great one) and a character sacrifices his/her life, and you're sitting there thinking about how attached you were and how many great things he did and how he affected the story?  Maybe you're shouting, "NONONONOOOO!" at the book or considering flinging it across the room.  Maybe you're shedding tears.  It's ten times worse for a writer.  I discovered this character lurking in the inmost depths of my story-building mind, I built him up and made him act and gave him words, and he compliantly went along.  And while I knew his life had to come to an end sometime, I didn't actually think I would come to it.

For a while, before the first draft is completed, most of the story is still a daydream.  So when I knew that I'd have to kill off this character, I never thought it'd come so soon.

But that's not the worst part.  Describing a sudden, violent death (like his was) isn't nearly as hard/sad as describing the reactions of those around him.  In this case, it's in battle, and another character, the deceased's brother-in-law, has now lost every single person in his family to an early grave.  He is almost completely alone in life - and he must act accordingly.  Writing out such feelings (in battle, when he's already worked up, and he sees it happen) is...hard.  And slightly emotionally draining.

But I must say, reading about the death of a character is still different than writing about it.  While reader feels distraught and sad and possibly angry, the writer feels distraught and sad but knows it must happen.  It's a sense of impending doom that I'm sure most authors feel before writing a death scene; and afterwords, they know they've made the best choice.  Sometimes the reader doesn't feel that way.

And it makes you think:  How would this story be affected if this character didn't die?  How many others would die in his place?  How would the lives of his friends and family have been different?  Sometimes, the whole story, the climax and everything is affected.  I realized as I wrote it that even if I put it off, he would have to die sometime later.  He wasn't supposed to belong in the story for very long; if he stayed, it would unnecessarily complicate some of the relationships I'm trying to build, not to mention the climax.

It was the right time.  It had to happen to save the story - to build relationships and set into course a chain of events that will forever affect the characters' lives.  But oh, how strangely difficult it is.

I'm not certain that every author feels this way.  I'm absolutely certain, in fact, that many will disagree with me.  But as to me and mine - this is how it is.  I've been at this novel writing business for 10 years now; I've killed off a good amount of characters; I've even killed a few lead roles.  It's hard - but worth it.  If it makes the story stronger, it usually means it's ok.

What do you all think?  Any aspiring (or published!) authors out there who agree?  Or who disagree?  I want to hear your thoughts!

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