Monday, November 7, 2011

More of You Must Die!

Dude, okay so not like you: you. But like you: your characters.

There's something I've noticed about myself as a writer. I don't want anyone to die. Well, the bad guy of course, but no one else. So it's been extremely difficult for me to make anyone actually bite the bullet.

Sure, I make them suffer, I make them cry, I make them bleed, but no one actually dies.

But I've realized over the past couple of weeks that more of my characters must die. A lot more. I've been reading some fabulous books where the authors are braver than me. They killed people off left and right. People I as a reader loved. People the MC's loved.

And I found my courage to kill. (Dude, that sounds terrible!) I've decided that it's okay to let some of my characters go into the light. After all, it sure would make A) the book better and B) my life as the author easier, because then I don't have to keep track of that particular person anymore.

So there. As I sit down to NaNo this month, I keep repeating to myself, "More of you must die!"

Is it easy for you to kill your characters? Why or why not?

65 comments:

Elanor Lawrence said...

I know this probably sounds terrible, but it's easier for me to kill my own characters than for me to read a book where lots of characters die. The reason is that I'm a die-hard plotter; I know exactly who's gonna live and who's gonna die a long time before I even start writing the book. This means that before I actually write them, and get invested in their lives, I already know that they'll die, and it seems to be easier this way.

However, if you were to tell me to kill one of my MCs who I hadn't planned to die, then yes, that would be hard.

Amie McCracken said...

I find it easy to kill my characters, but maybe that's because deep down the idea that they needed to die has been brewing in my subconscious for a lot longer than I've actual thought it out loud. If there's a reason there's a way.

Am I morbid?

Jess said...

I have such a hard time killing my people off! I've got plenty of people to choose from, but once I'm ready to do it, I can't! It's sad to kill your own creations... But it just has to be done.

Rain Laaman said...

As bad as this sounds, I was more of a killer when I was younger. Now I'm kind of a wimp. If I want anyone to die, I have to plan it out beforehand, so that I know what that person is destined for all along.

Francesca Zappia said...

I have a pretty easy time killing characters, whether I plan it out or not. (Cause when I don't plan it out, I get excited and think, "Oooh! What sort of conflict will crop up when YOU die?")

I killed off a character (planned) a while back, and what I found out was that the scene where they die wasn't even the hardest to write--it was all the scenes after where the other characters are reacting to the death, and I realized, "Oh crap, I'm never going to be able to use that character again."

Natalie Aguirre said...

I have the same problem. I think I have to decide who will die when I start the story or it won't work. Because I hate to kill anyone.

Journaling Woman said...

It's not always easy to destroy what you've created. :)

Teresa

Laura Pauling said...

It's hard but I absolutely love in a horrible way when a character dies. It usually makes the story stronger. :) Not easy though.

Liza said...

So far I have wimped out in that regard.

JoLynne Lyon said...

As a reader, I've run into some great story lines where a character dies. If killing off a character would make the story better, do it. But lately it seems the body count is just another fad in YA. I hope a writer can have an emotional impact on the reader in ways other than increasing the carnage.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I killed off a major character (mc's potential love interest) in the first book I wrote. He wasn't the only potential love interest, so I didn't feel too bad about. (Okay, I lie. I cried everytime I edited the scene). One of my teen readers bawled with she read the scene. I haven't killed off anyone since. :)

Kristi said...

This is one of those posts that hits so close to home I want to look away and be in denial that I ever read it.

Mostly because I get it. I'm in that camp too. Thinking of killing off my favorite characters makes me so uncomfortable...what a wimp!

Point taken, and it's a really great point! Thanks for sharing!

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

I still am ticked that Breaking dawn had everyone live. Come on after all that she just makes it so peacefull. ANti-flippen0climatic. We dont need rosallie. Come on! :P

I just killed a character, but it was a sweet death. Needed I think. He will live in my heart forever!

Tasha Seegmiller said...

Kill someone right at the first - get the ball rolling, you know?

I really think some of my favorite scenes involve the death of someone, but as a writer, we definitely have to psych ourselves up to do it.

Slamdunk said...

Yeah offing someone in the first few pages works well, but I can see how attachment would make a character passing a difficult decision.

Writing humor, I guess, has an appeal when looking at this issue.

Kristie Cook said...

I had to laugh when you said you don't have to keep track of the dead character anymore. Just be sure you keep track that he's dead and doesn't show up again all warm and happy! I've only killed a couple of important players and although I knew it was coming, I still balked at it, trying to come up with ways the story would be better if they didn't die. But, alas, that's what happened - they died, no matter how much I didn't like it.

rosalyn said...

I think it depends a lot on the genre--some genres have a lot higher tolerance/expectation for dying.

In one of my early attempts at a novel, I killed the MC's best friend and my sister (then really my only reader) was so mad at me that I had to go back and change it. I think that if the death advances the plot somehow, then yes, it can be satisfying. But if it's just in there for shock value, then maybe it's not the most effective way to proceed.

Annalise Green said...

I generally find that in order to kill a character, it must be something that I've planned from the very beginning. So that I have enough resolve to do it when I actually get there. Because it can be really hard, even still. I remember one short story where the whole point of the story was that a certain character died, but when I got to that part, I could never write it...I just froze up.

Mel Fowler said...

It's terrible for me too... I don't want anyone to die, but in my book I find myself leading to a path of death...

not cool...

but possibly awesome if done right.

K.T. Hanna said...

Actually - I have no problem killing characters. I might kill them too much. In a book that will one day see the light of day (when I completely rework and rewrite it) I kill one of my main characters (it's integral, I promise)

In my currently being polished WIP - I kill two of my main secondary characters. Characters people will come to really love :D It's necessary. Not to mention I maim all my main characters too.

But I'm just like that ;)

LynnRush said...

I love trying to kill my characters. Some come back...some don't. As long as you can make it work for the story I say kill away. It's crazy fun and unexpected and heart wrenching. :)

ilima said...

I have the same problem. In my nano I have a big character die, but it's in the beginning, so the reader's not attached so much. I'm such a wimp :S

phyllis sweetwater said...

ouch! I don't like killing at all, not even spiders. I have a few characters who almost die, everyone thinks they are dead, does that count? I have to express my opinion, I think too many characters in Harry Potter died. It wasn't needed, was it?

beth said...

BWAHAHAHAHAA!!! You and I do NOT share the same problem in writing. Bring your characters closer to me, my dear, I shall slaughter them.

*throws a bomb into my own manuscript* Heheheheee. I loves killing the preciouses.... :D

Donelle Lacy said...

I have this problem too! I've been going round and round over killing or not killing off a particular character. It would benefit the story if I do it right, but I have to make sure I'm done with her first. Plus, you do get attached to characters.

It's hard to just steel yourself and let the ax fall.

Emily said...

I can't kill characters either! I had a plan to kill one of them...but when it came down to it, I couldn't pull the trigger.

So. Everyone's alive. BUT, because the good guys got to live, the bad guys got to live too.

There's gotta be a balance.

Jonathon Arntson said...

On the flipside, some authors are more bloodthirsty than a drug cartel lord.

I love Dashner, I really do, but I just finished The Death Cure and by the end it was like... CHOP CHOP CHOP! And I didn't feel a thing...

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I agree. I've been noticing/feeling the same thing (Susan Q.). :-)

Alice said...

I'm wondering who you're going to kill off. I'm revising a novel and realized I needed to kill a main character. It was hard to do but helped make the story better.

Ruth Josse said...

Murderess! :) But if it's best for the story, kill away.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I won't say it's easy but I've killed before and I'll kill again.

Wow, that makes me sound so evil!

Meredith said...

Haha, how awful! I don't tend to kill off characters in my contemporary reads, but in my fantasy ones, no one's safe. :) Good luck!

Nisa said...

You are brave! I can do it if I really prepare myself. And if the characters are minor.

Marsha Sigman said...

It's hard. But now I'm writing a ghost story and hald my peeps are dead already so that actually makes it a lot easier.lol

Here's to mass murder...literary style.

Stephanie McGee said...

It can be hard. I've had long debates about which if any characters should die. Characters get reprieves and stays of execution only to be back under the guillotine (figuratively speaking) the next day.

I had another thought but I can't remember it. I got distracted by the TV.

Mina Burrows said...

It depends on the characters, but yes...it can be difficult. :(

J.R. Johansson said...

I'm coming to grips with this, too...and it's hard! I love some of the characters. I've worked so hard on them and yet they still HAVE to die. *sigh*

Maybe if I kill them with a cookie...

David Powers King said...

I have no problem killing my characters. Well. At least the ones that readers won't thoroughly hate my guts and throw my book across the room when I do knock them off.

I'm dying from laughter over here. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I write crime fiction, so I kill characters. The body count can go up if I'm not invested in the character. But it's tough to kill someone midway when I've come to know them. I usually hem and haw and clean my sock drawer before coming to terms. Typically the night before, after a few days of not writing, I tell myself 'tomorrow I'm killing him'. The killing scene will be the first one I write the next day. So it takes me longer to come to grips with the killing than it does to just do it.

The Golden Eagle said...

I don't really like killing my characters; unless they're secondary or relatively unimportant. But I know I have to sometimes to keep things moving . . . or even just realistic.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

I have to admit I hate to have bad things happen to my characters - although I do let them happen. But part of me is saying "Oh, noooooo....."

Melody said...

Well, if you must kill your characters, and goodness knows we all have to do it, please, please, please give them a proper death scene! :) People love them, so if we have to watch them die...give us at least a few paragraphs to appreciate their death. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I don't even like killing the bad guys! I'm such a wimp! But I'll do it when necessary :) Have fun with your killing spree! :)

June G said...

Yep. It's definitely tough to kill off a character. I couldn't bring myself to do one of them in, so I invented another character to kill. It was still tough! I knew I did the right thing, though, when one of my friends started to cry when she read it. Yep. Sometimes death is good *sigh*

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I had to kill off a character I loved (and more importantly, someone my MC loved) in my first book because he actually did die in real life.

I felt like I'd stabbed my MC in the back. I was depressed for weeks.

Then I had to kill him off again in every subsequent draft (not to mention the screenplay versions, all 8 of them).

It will be awhile before I can bring myself to do it again!

Krispy said...

Definitely know how you feel. I think I used to be pretty good at killing characters off, but these days, I get attached a lot more easily. So it's a lot harder now!

Cherie Reich said...

I sometimes think I kill characters too easily. Then, there are other characters that I beg for them not to die, but they must. Those are the really hard ones.

Kelly Polark said...

Jon and I were just talking about a character in our book dying. You hate to do it, but it makes for surprising reading!
And you really feel bad about it!

I just read a really good book that I was shocked about some of hte people dying. But in real life, likable people do really die. (unfortunately)

Abby Fowers said...

Oh NOOOO! Now you have my attention. I am dying to know who you're killing off. (pun intended.) hehe. I have a hard time killing my characters too, but I have reached the same conclusion. Someone MUST die. Eek!

Miriam Forster said...

I laughed so hard at your first line. :)

Also, I'm totally the oppisite. I always want to kill people off, sometimes too many people. But for the first time, I'm dealing with a character I don't want to kill off. The story demands it, the MC's emotional arc demands it, and it makes perfect, logical sense. But I DON'T WANT TO DO IT.

*sigh*

Good luck with your killing!

Angela Brown said...

George R. R. Martin apparently has no fear in killing people off. But I've noticed, after crying that my Ned died in the first book, that his kills are not without plot purpose.

So go ahead, Elana. Give it your best shot.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I have the same problem! I even have a hard problem writing about someone who died BEFORE the book started. I start writing, and then get feeling all guilty and think "I can't believe I killed them!!"

But you're right. It is easier to not have to keep track of them. ;)

Cara Mia Amore said...

So, I wouldn't say it is easy to kill my characters, but I can do it when I set my mind to it, though it is hard.

I remember the first character I killed, her death was so unexpected (I'm a pantser all the way, so nothing was really planned) that I actually had to stop writing because I was all teary. Let me just say I was confusing my husband when I was sitting there crying like crazy and I had to get out between sobs that someone died. He thought I was talking about a person in our life, not my story, so he freaked out until I was able to explain more.

Since that first death, I've been a little better at it, to the extent that I don't just start sobbing. But it hurts me to kill off characters. Even though I know it is the best thing for the story and my main character's tale it still is painful.

Cara

Gail Shepherd said...

Funny story: at a writers workshop this year the teacher wanted me to kill my MC's mother and her aunt. But NOT her pet deer! I had to laugh. (I'm not killing any of them, BTW).

Gail Shepherd said...

Oh, also, I read on another blog that J.K. Rowling originally planned to kill off Ron. And decided not to.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I wouldn't say it's easy to kill a character, but I can definitely feel when it is necessary, whether for the plot or the emotional arc of a character or for closure. Sounds weird that death would bring closure, but doesn't death bring the greatest closure of all? The end.

Claire Dawn said...

I was thinking this as I rewatched the first two Twilight movies last night. (What? I get weird moods sometimes.)None of the important people die in Twilight. Once she killed a person that was close to a person close to the MC. Sae deal with Harry Potter.

And then I was thinking about the anime, One Piece, which recently killed off a character that was kind of peripheral, but still somehow a main character. And he's huge now. I have a little lego figurine of him hanging off my phone. It's like when a B-list singer dies and everyone goes out and buys their music.

Apart from the popularity thing, I got to thinking that it's not really high stakes in speculative fiction if noone dies. Remember Lord of the Rings? When one of the characters dies, it makes it real. This is a dangerous life these people are living, and someone could die at any time.

I don't think "kill your darlings" applies quite so literally in contemp. It would feel contrived and annoying if someone died in every contemporary story. Like how the lack of parents in YA annoys some people.

Alana said...

Killing or not killing your characters seriously depends on what the story needs, I think. There are some stories where lots of dying and/or significant people dying should happen; if no one dies, it feels like a cop out. On the other hand, I don't really like seeing favorite characters die and I might hate the author for a little while if they kill them off. It all depends on what the story is and what kind of emotional impact you want to leave on your readers.

With my current project, I really want to kill off one of the main characters (he's essentially the morality chain for the other two main characters and is probably my favorite) but, unfortunately, I am as of yet unable to make it work out logistically. This conundrum has not in any way prevented me from killing off almost half of the named characters in the story...

Stacy Henrie said...

Loved this post, Elana! :) It is hard for me to kill off my characters. Not the ones off-screen, like the parents before the book begins, but on-screen characters are tough. I got teary when I had to kill off one of my MCs.

Matthew MacNish said...

Yep. Easy for me. Death is a part of life.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

In a sequel to my first book I had to kill off a beloved character that my readers had come to love, but it was necessary for the main character to grow and move forward.

I know what you mean, though. Several times I've planned to killed a character and then he miraculously beats the odds and lives. What's with that?

Valerie Ipson said...

Surely those characters are in a better place, right? (The fictional spirit world is so much more lovely than the fictional world of the novel. :D)

Susanne Drazic said...

I have a very hard time killing off any of my characters. I'm not sure why, but I do. Now if my character were a giant spider, I'd have no problem at all.
: )

Casey (The Bookish Type) said...

This makes me think of GoFaT. I was like NO. THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME.

But I also wanted to give Rae a standing ovation for having that much gumption. I still hope she finds a way to undo it though :P #conflicted

Maybe I'm just a mean person, but I went in to my NaNo novel knowing several people were going to die -- had to die for the development of my MC. I'm still not sure how I'm going to write my way back out of one of the deaths though :\

I'm also REALLY nervous for Surrender now O_O

Rachel Morgan said...

I hope people can't hear you as you keep repeating to yourself, "More of you must die!"

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