Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

Those of you who follow me on Twitter most likely saw my angst-ridden tweets yesterday afternoon. In the midst of writing my final chapter (almost done! almost done!), something happened that I didn't intend.

Someone died.

I didn't plan this, didn't want this, tried to talk myself out of this. I tweeted my struggle and was met with almost universal encouragement to go ahead and kill off the character.

And so.

*moment of bereaved silence*

The advice that rang truest? This tweet from Devon Ellington: If you don't want him to die, you care enough so the impact of the character's death will hit the audience even harder.

Devon's tweet clinched it for me.

So talk to me about death in your stories. Has it ever crept up on you like that, and you KNEW it was right? Or do you always carefully plan your character snuffs?

Oh. And in lieu of flowers, please send chocolate. If I decide to un-kill my character in the second draft, I'll send the chocolate back.

Unless I've eaten it.


  1. I'm one of the callous people that said you should kill him, but I don't always take character death so lightly. It does seem that all my favorite characters meet the axe within their stories though. And many times it hurts me to write it (I was sick to my stomach for a week when I killed off my favorite character, and I'm still debating not doing it, but I've given the scene to my writing group and it made them all cry - if I can make people love a character so much that THEY cry when she dies then I suppose I've done a good job). I had one sneak up on me last week, and surprised me a lot, but after thinking it through it just seemed right. Everyone dies eventually, and sometimes it happens when you are 13.

    I think a lot of times writing a death scene is my way of coping with a fear of death. I've only ever killed one character that didn't need to die for the story (and her RL counterpart deserved it).

  2. Oh my. I hate when something like that happens. Sending dark chocolate your way.

  3. I accidentally killed a character's father not long ago. It was a tough few weeks but she managed to move on. I, on the other hand, could still use some of that chocolate! :-)

  4. This post makes me want to ask a question that was kicking around in my mind this morning. I'm working on my first book, and I've got a great outline, but I find as I sit down to write it that all I start with is, "she talks to her Dad about the divorce - she's sad" and what I end up with is 4 pages of dialogue I didn't know I'd write until I wrote it. Feelings she explored, reactions of her Dad, what was on TV in the background. But, here is the kicker...I think if I had sat down 2 days later to write it, it probably would have come out completely differently. I made have made her say a little comment that would have turned the emotional state in a completely different way 3 chapters later. It bothers me a little bit, this random luck of the draw of what will come out today.

  5. Oo! Good question!

    I'm the opposite, I think. While outlining, I think to myself, "Oh! Oh! And then he DIES! It's gonna be so cool."

    But when I get to that part in the draft I have doubts. I kinda like him now. Does he really HAVE to die? Surely I just wasn't thinking things through...

  6. One of my characters starts off presumedly dead, returns to redeem himself only to die (for real this time) in the process. Since I usually don't plot out my storyline, it always comes as a surprise to me.

  7. I haven't had the creeping death, yet. I have, however, had a character take a crazy turn I didn't expect. I think Devon's advice would have applied to my experience, too.

    Oh, sending mental chocolates...the ones with the ooey-gooey in the middle.

  8. In my historical MG novel, the MC and her father were escaping a flood, only he didn't escape. I couldn't believe it!

    These kind of things happen when you're in the writing flow, people shape shift, even perish . . . and I think by taking you by surprise, it will really sneak up on the reader.

  9. Oh, yes. My book was building up to a big battle scene, and I sort knew in the back of my mind that there would need to be deaths, but a particular character came forward as someone whose death would be especially poignant and meaningful. And I cried. I realized that his death had basically been foreshadowed when he was first introduced, but that didn't console me much.

    Making characters suffer - it's a writer's burden (or pleasure, depending on your taste...)

  10. I write murder mysteries, so death is a frequent thing. Everytime, though, it makes me sad, and I find myself desperately looking for any way to save the character without ruining the story. I haven't found one yet.

  11. :( Character deaths = horrid. One time after I wrote a death scene I hadn't been expecting to write I had the shakes for days.

  12. So far, a character's death hasn't snuck up on me, since I tend to outline pretty extensively (which isn't to say outlines are stringent, of course, just that they give me a pretty good idea of where things are going). And I'm one of those morbid writers who kind of likes to kill characters off (for the emotional punch). :)

    Anon 10:26, I totally feel your pain. But that's the beauty of the first draft: Getting it down is important, but it's a fluid thing - it doesn't have to stay the way you wrote it the first time. In fact, it probably SHOULDN'T stay the way you wrote it the first time, because there's usually a better way to write it (which is a lesson it took me quite a few books to learn).

    So use the bones of the scene, sure, but don't be afraid to mix things up. If you take a few cracks at it on a few different days, sooner or later, you'll find the version that really sparkles.

    Best of luck!

  13. It is hard.

    But I think what's WORSE (for me as a reader) than character deaths is the miraculous and unbelievable 'he lived!' where you just KNOW the author chickened out of killing the character when logically and for story purposes, etc, he should have died. (Or maybe it's just me?) It makes me want to hurt the author and deprive them of chocolate.

    But then I may be weird about the issue; so many times, my favorite characters die. :( (Or else I like the doomed ones.)

    *offers dark chocolate*

    But it's definitely true that if you don't want to and do it anyway, it'll be so much more effective and the emotion comes through to readers a lot better, imo.

    *toast to hard choices in fiction writing*

  14. I'm sorry. I had this happen to me last summer. I wrote the scene, and then I tried to take her death out because I didn't want it. It made a mess of my story for months until I wrote her death back in. You're handling it better than I did.

  15. Has it ever crept up on you like that, and you KNEW it was right?

    Oh yes. I had one character whose quirky, disturbed friend had copied her appearance from the beginning of the book. Late in the book I had written myself into a corner with a lethal threat catching up to the heroine.

    At work one day, as I stepped into the restroom, I realized that since the end of the book required the heroine be separated from her allies, the quirky friend could distract the Enemy with her impersonation of the heroine, and perish.

    I came to a stop at the restroom stall with tears lurking behind my eyes as I thought of this. I suspected that if I could be moved by the friend's death, some readers might as well. Judging from the responses from my writers groups, it turned out to be the right thing to do.

  16. *hands over Chocolate from all over the world*

    In my last couple books, I killed off people left and right. One was urban fantasy with evil beings so it was a given that people would die. The other story is made up a quite a few ghosts, so ...

    But my new WIP ... I have no plans to kill anyone, and even though my "babies" are still new to me, I can't imagine killing one of them off.

    I think it's great you care enough about the character to find it hard to part with him.

  17. Kill him/her. Do it. Do it abruptly. I can tell that it needs to done. It's like when you're rock climbing and you have to cut the rope for the greater good. It. Had. To. Be. Done.

    Do it.

  18. I just started a new manuscript and I know the main character has to die to make the story work. I thought of different ways to end it w/ him living, but it just doesn't have the impact.

    And the first time I killed an important character I felt really bad for two days.

  19. As someone who doesn't outline, I look at writing as very similar to life. We might have specific plans for ourselves and do what we can to make those dreams come true, then Hurricane Katrina comes along, or an unplanned pregnancy, or someone else's negligence interfers,and makes some or all of our plans impossible.

    The same thing happens in writing. I have an overall idea for my stories, but as they go on, things I never originally imagined happen, and life for my character suddenly changes (or ends)

    But unlike life, I usually ressurect those characters again, give them different names, and stick them in another story.

    I don't think I've ever written a story where someone didn't die.

  20. In one of my better WIPs, my mc's cousin commits suicide. It was a senseless death of a secondary (well, fourthly, actually) character that the family never saw coming. Once he did it, though, my ms has taken on new life. While I mourn the loss of Andrew, I have to admit, his death made everything better. (That being said, my current completed ms has a horrific traffic accident in which no one dies - I just couldn't do it).

  21. I heard a sixth grader ask Lois Lowry this question last week: Does someone die in all your books?

    Her response (paraphrased slightly): Yes, usually someone dies in my books. Usually someone is born too, because both of those things are part of life.

  22. I share your pain and send you cyber chocolate.

    I wrote a prequel a while back, and the main character was a widow. So I knew I had to kill off her husband at some point so that she could fall in love with the hero.

    What made it tricky was that my readers (this was posted in serial form) knew it must happen too.

    As a result I killed him off when they weren't expecting it.

    I cried when I wrote it. I even cried when I edited it. The readers cried when I posted it... and I knew it had hit the mark.

    As a side note, I found it very effective writing the event as a reported event, using other people's reactions to drive it forward. In some ways that helped soften the blow.

  23. Usually that doesn't sneak up on me on the writing process, but it often blindsides me in the planning stage. I'll be thinking, "So then they travel to the Storm Clouds of Mount Tyme..." and then BAM! The character dies, and I'm left thinking, "Oh nooo! That's going to be so sad!" but I'll know it's how it has to be.

  24. In my first WIP I had a character that needed special treatment but was at a loss as to how to do it. During a final editing phase it came to me suddenly 'out of the blue' before I cut him from the novel how to dispose of him. Rather macabre, but fitting for the genre and the plot.