Hello again and welcome to “Writing Problems WheneverTheHellIFeelLikeIt”. Lately, I was writing a rather difficult scene involving a character’s death. I really liked the girl, and I was sorry to see her go. So I resorted to my usual coping technique to make it a little easier, and I thought some of you might find that useful, too…
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Kill your darlings or How to do what needs to be done without having a nervous breakdown
So there it is, the great battle between Good and Evil, the absolute climax of your story. There are fights everywhere, your hero is confronting the Big Bad, he falls to the ground, the Baddie raises his weapon – And now you’re stuck with a dilemma: Who will throw himself between the hero and the fatal bullet/knife/ball of fire?
A classic situation. You managed to save your sweetheart characters through most of the story, but now you have no choice: one of them has to die. It’s just… how could you possibly kill off someone you love so dearly? Believe me, I know the feeling. I would love to give everyone a happy ending. But sometimes, the story demands a sacrifice, and it breaks my heart to deny someone their happily-ever-after. Still, I know that most of the time, someone has to die. I only ever had one story where it was possible, that, to say it with the words of my favourite physician, “just this once, everybody lives”. Most of my stories are of the kind that needs one or more deaths to work, to make sense and come alive. Letting everybody live makes them feel artificial, constructed and kinda boring. So I need to pick my sacrifice. And I do, though it sometimes very nearly makes me cry. After the fifth crying fit upon the death of one of my babies, I decided that I needed a way to avoid those psychotic episodes. It doesn’t sit well with the neighbours if you start yelling at your screen at three in the morning because the love interest of your MC (and sort of your recent crush… don’t judge me, I’m single^^) dies a slow and painful death because he had to save the key character in the ritual that will save the world…
Now, it took me a few tries, but I found a way to make it all easier. It’s rather simple, actually – pretty much just an alternate ending. More precisely, a happy ending for the character who will have to go belly-up. Sometimes, it’s done with a few additional sentences, but there have been cases when I have written approximately fifty pages of what-if. And it was worth it. I loved the guy, I really did. Still, I had to kill him off halfway through the story. So I kind of… wrote half a dozen stories about what life he would’ve had if I hadn’t, complete with how many kids he had and which girl he would’ve gotten. Yes, I’m crazy. Sheesh, you should’ve expected that, reading a writing blog and all…
So, what I’m saying is that, basically, giving the poor guy a decent life in my own head made writing the actual story much easier. It may sound stupid, not being able to kill off a fictional character just like that, but some of us get a tiny bit emotionally attached. I mean, we spend days, nights, holidays, writing sprees, sometimes even Christmas or our birthday with a small group of ink people. If we didn’t like them, our readers wouldn’t feel anything when reading about them, be that love, hatred, jealousy, shame, whatever. In order to make our readers feel, we need to feel. Which doesn’t make it any easier, especially if the story itself is hard to write. So, if you have to face that decision again of who will have to die in order to save the world, maybe giving them a fairy tale ending with sparkles and rainbows will make it a bit easier to go through with it – hopefully without screaming at your computer and throwing your character sheets out the window :)