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.
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?