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If You Want A Character Killed Off Right, You’ve Got to Do It Yourself

Just finished the weekly call of my book writing group. Elizabeth asked us to think of someone we know who has experienced a major life change. We discussed how someone’s behavior reflects the changes they go through and how even a positive change involves conflict.

Observing change, I realize, is enormously different than writing change. When I watch someone I care about going through a significant transition, my impulse is to support her/him, whether the change is for good or bad. If I can’t do something to help, at worst all I have to do is stay out of the way and watch.

When writing a story, I am the one who has to make things happen to my characters. Yes: my characters. I care about them. I even love some of them. When they hurt, I hurt. I cannot protect them. Whether or not the pain is my idea, I must deliver it.

A friend of mine told me about realizing he had to kill off a character. He had been putting off writing that scene. Even though the character was despicable, he didn’t want to be the one to hurt him. The story insisted that it be done, so he did it. No matter which characters we choose to serve as our delegates, we, the writers, also have find the words that will do our dirty work.

But we have to follow some rules. If we go on random rampages of omnipotence, readers lose interest, assuming there are any characters left to people the story. Shakepeare picks off characters left, right, and sideways, but leaves plenty of them to reel from all the violence and loss. What does the story need?: That is the question.

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One Response

  1. I’ve been thinking about this issue, but in terms of writing nonfiction.

    In writing personal memoir, I don’t want to be the one to hurt my “characters,” because those characters, if living, are real people. I don’t want to violate their privacy or take revenge on someone who may have hurt or simply slighted me. That’s my inhibition, I realize.

    However, in fiction, you *can* hurt someone, and the physical world will not wince. While I do not mean to minimize the gravity of what you’re saying about killing off your character, there could be something cathartic about it, too.

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