In which Deb Joanne commits murder!

Literary murder, that is.  But come on, who of us hasn’t killed off a character? I’ve done it a few times with little thought other than that it’s what’s best for the story. Life is messy and that means that deaths happen, sometimes even to good people, right?  So of course we, as writers, sometimes need to include the tough stuff that really happens. Like death. And it’s all part of the process.

Until you totally and completely fall in love with your character.Jodie Foster

That’s when you realize that killing him is a lot harder than just typing characters onto a page in between sips of coffee and checking e-mail. Death means the end.  Maybe not the end of your story, but the end of his story.  And playing God like that is really scary. And hard. And utterly heartbreaking.

This happened to me a couple of years ago. I was writing a book that I would like to sell someday, so I’m not going to tell you a lot about the circumstances that lead up to the character’s death.  Let’s just say his name was…er…Mr. Doomed. So Mr. Doomed was a secondary character, the love interest, the tortured soul (who doesn’t love tortured souls?) who meets the main character, and shows her things through his eyes about her life that enable her to grow.  He’s a bit of a cautionary tale, our Mr. Doomed, but our main character, we’ll call her…Ms. Hasalottalearn falls in love with him because his crappy situation is not really his doing and he’s tough and a survivor.  Who doesn’t love a tortured soul who ultimately survives all the crap life has thrown at him? And he was surviving, if not thriving, despite a lot of crap.

Until I realized he had to die.  He HAD to.  I mean, I toyed with it for a few weeks and really didn’t want to kill him. But then I realized my reluctance to kill him was based purely on my love for him and not my willingness to do the best for the story.  I’m serious—I was really torn up about it, which is completely irrational, I know, since I made him up in my head.  But the more I really didn’t want to do it, the more I realized I had to.  It was what was best for the story.

So the day came.  There was no more avoiding it. I woke up knowing it would be Mr. Doomed’s last day. I sat down at the computer, took a deep breath and began to write his end.  The tension coiled in my spine, keeping me completely stiff in my chair.  Then there came the violent scene where he gets mortally wounded.  I had to force myself to breathe.

Oh this is hard, I told myself, but kept typing away, the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard increasing in speed and pressure.  Then, Mr. Doomed is taken to the hospital, Ms. Hasalottalearn by his side in the ambulance, holding his hand, begging him to stay with her.  He tells her he loves her.  Oh, this is not going well, I told myself, even though I knew.  Then it became too much.  I had to get up and leave the computer.  This had never happened before (or since, but to be honest, Middle Grade books like what I’m writing now are not rife with the violent deaths of beloved characters)  but I was so overwhelmed with emotion, that I had to physically take myself away from the story.  But at the same time, I wanted to write it so badly, that within a half an hour I was back, typing away, until Ms. Hasalottalearn is told Mr. Doomed didn’t make it. She immediately goes into shock, and I think I felt it right along with her.  disbelieving that I’d actually done it.  I’d killed him.  He wouldn’t wake from a coma, he wouldn’t emerge from surgery to make a recovery.  He was dead. It was his The End.

And then the tears came.  Both for me and Ms Hasalottalearn. We collapsed into slobbering heaps of grief, her at the hospital, me and my desk (and still typing, like the masochist I am).  Ugh, it was awful.  And beautiful, but kind of really awful.  But perfect.  You know what I’m talking about. I know you do.  Because it was so hard, but so right for the story. And I know my readers will hate that he died, but know it was right and will realize in the end that he had to die.

Because sometimes murder is totally justified, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.


What about you? Have you ever murdered anyone (in your writing – this isn’t a confessional)? Or just killed a few darlings that cut deeply?

20 Replies to “In which Deb Joanne commits murder!”

  1. Boy, it IS difficult to kill a beloved character. I had to do that to one of my favorite secondary characters in my drawer novel, and I boo-hooed all over the keyboard as I was writing it. It was essential to the plot, but…gaaah. So hard.

    1. Exactly – we get so invested in our characters that they seem completely real. I think that we hate to kill them means we’re not sociopaths, so I guess that’s a good litmus test. Maybe.

      1. I think the same can be said too of not having them necessarily get what they want. That’s a tough one. Fiction, like life, isn’t always granted a tidy ending. I’ve cried for characters of mine who haven’t had their wishes come true and have had heartbreak but it was always the best choice, in my mind.

  2. I have only written one book where a character died, and the book was a failure. Now that I look back on it, one of the issues was that the character definitely should *not* have died, and I was unwilling to change that.

    Death or not, I guess the bigger issue is not being too stubborn to do what has to be done. Maybe there’s a life lesson somewhere in there too?

  3. Well let’s see, I have never written a book or have I ever tried (I am better at party planning, selling real estate and cooking and more just had to get that in) but let me tell you if I did write their are some really good characters that it would be easy for me to kill off and than again I would feel bad about certain other characters that would have to leave.

  4. LOL Mondays are worthwhile just to read the mother/daughter dialog.

    The killing thing is something to ponder. If I live long enough to write a novel, I’ll see if I can include a death somewhere. Or is a death the same as a killing?

  5. Oy, killing our darlings. I swear that’s all I’ve done for the past two weeks of edits.

    Well, is it actual murder if I cut them out of a ms but then paste them into a slush file?

    Hmm…certainly more humane, anyway;)

    1. Funny you say this – I was just saying to my husband on the weekend that I’m delighted that I’m going to be able to cannibalize a drawer book for a really good scene that I’m going to use for an upcoming project. What is it with us writers? Maybe our love for drama is showing…

      1. So very cool. It’s kind of like being a woodworker, thinking of a project and recalling your inventory of wood and knowing of just the right piece, this scrap of cherry or something that you kept because you just KNEW someday you’d use it…

  6. Thanks Joanne…now there’s TWO books I can’t wait to get my hands on! And maybe you are a drama queen at heart? LOL How lucky you are to be the master of the stories you tell. Must be so exhilarating sometimes. Okay, yeah, heartbreaking too I guess. But you can seek revenge on anyone by creating a character for them and then writing their slow and painful demise. Waaaaayyyy better than a voodoo doll! Taylor Swift just writes country songs about the guys who have dumped her. You can KILL them. In a literary sense ONLY of course. Woah. haha

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