Emotionally detaching yourself from killing likable characters
Wow, I really have a theme of killing here, don’t I? Anywho…
Time to talk about something hard for everyone.
But this is no ordinary death that you mourn. You do not get to remember the last time you held this person’s hand, or are left hanging with the dreadful feeling of regret, nor do you get to remember a time that you ever saw this person outside of your mind. In a sense it is an easy thing, there is no attachment, but also there is more of a connection because you concocted them. You are their creator, God, mother/father, family, everything. Yet they have no idea that you exist (in most cases).
These people are your characters. They started around a single idea in your head and have blossomed into a person before your eyes, smearing across your computer screen or smudging in ink on your paper with every word. Death is inevitable and sometimes necessary, as you all know. There is no changing that fact. But you can make it easier on yourself.
Now, you’re reading this and thinking “boy, this post is much more intense than the title leads on to.” But I assure you that there is a point.
1. The lead up
You know damn well that your character is edging closer and closer to death. Be it sickness, battle, age, accident, etc. The possibilities are endless. There is a soft spot right above your heart and hovering at the tip of your fingers as you furiously plug in one word after another that cries for the inevitable. There is the a-typical build where you allow your audience to go through the motions with the person as they die, following each swing and emotion and look, describing the event in detail, or however you play it out, either way it is dragged out like pulling apart a fresh mozzarella stick and letting the cheese bridge between the two parts until it snaps and your left with a white rope hanging from one of the cliffs. And then there is the Suzanne Collins approach in Mockingjay where SPOILER ALERT: Prim just kind of dies. I re-read that part a couple times just to make sure that it actually happened.
That could have been thanks to a bad coping mechanism where she just ripped the bandaid off, or she just wanted to blow right through it. But alas, I cannot put myself into the mind of another writer.
- Step one
You did it. You killed Prim. “Now what?”
You keep going. There are no breaks, no second-guessing, no deleting. The deed is done. The moment you go back and start to wonder “What if?” is the moment that your story loses focus. Why? There is a reason that you wanted to kill that character in the first place, from the time you wrote out your outline to just seconds before your character breathes his (or her) last breath.
Press forward until your mind empties and the scene is done. Finish it with another character leaving the arena, or the jar of poison rolling off the table, or the bullet wound that nicked your characters heart just so, or whatever you deem fit. But for the love of all things literary, keep going. Do not look back, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars. Finish the chapter or the paragraph. Get past the awful thing you just did in the name of literature.
- Step two
Now is when you sigh. Take in a deep breath through your open mouth, fill your lungs to full capacity and hold your breath, then blow all that air slowly out of your nose in a symphony of vibrating nose hairs and flying snot (it is allergy season after all).
Note: If you need a little extra relief, breath in quickly through your mouth and quickly out of your mouth a couple times to get your head a little spinny (do NOT actually do this).
You stare at your product and lean as far back as your chair will allow you to and look at your progress. This is when step 1 comes back into play. The further you got, the less likely you are to go back and change things. Writing a book takes a lot of time, so why waste it? Time is a valuable thing when your book will outlast you (that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?)
If you have to, sigh again. But don’t mourn for so long.
- Step Three
There really isn’t a step three, but it looks better than having just two steps. But remember that everyone has their own way of dealing with killing off a character. Let that moment be a shining star, prove to your readers your versatility and your strength and your abilities. Remember that it is okay to mourn your characters, just because some non-author-type person doesn’t understand and might peg you as a lunatic (anything is possible), does not invalidate your feelings of loss.
At the end of the day, remember that there is a whole flock of authors out there that know exactly how you are feeling. Where your average mundane person may not understand, we all do. Killing off a character is painful in its own outwardly-realistic respect. For emotional support, contact your local librarian or writing groups on Facebook.
-Courtney the Impaler
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