I do all kinds of unspeakable things to [pretend] people: blow them up; shoot them in the head; throw them off of cliffs. It’s done less for catharsis than the sheer joy of making things up*, but sometimes I wonder if all these deaths are good decisions. For those that happen in the book, I need to know that they’re moving the story forward. For those that happen during edits for the book, I’ve got to have a sense that the “death” sets the plot free from something that was holding it back. But can you ever really know if you’ve chosen the right kind of death?
Assuming I actually win at this lottery game of getting published, most people will never know about the characters I killed off before they had a chance to say their first line. They’ll never meet Claire** or Arturo***, because they only exist in a computer folder labeled “Draft One”.
But it’s for the better. Some characters just need to die – even the ones you love writing. I loved writing Claire and Arturo, yet it took me just one read-through to realize they were superfluous. I’d created them because they were fun, not because they were essential. When I cut them out and gave their plotline duties to someone else, everything got sharper and more succinct. I know it was a good decision because the story moves along just fine without them.
If someone dies during the story, it shouldn’t be for shock value or some terrible “mwahaha” tendency – a death should do something. My critique group jokes about how I love to kill people, and I’ll admit that I tend toward the “mwahaha” end of the spectrum. The feeling is not unlike playing a prank on someone and then watching their face as they realize what you’ve done. In reality, however, most of the characters I kill die between Draft One and Draft Two. The incident must push my protagonist toward action. Otherwise, why write it?
What do you think? Are there types of deaths you try to avoid in your own writing?
Michelle only kills pretend people, which makes her wonder how the phrase "It's the thought that counts" really applies to her. Hmmmm....
*I’m sure there’s a psychologist somewhere who’s willing to argue that point.
**An obituary for Claire: Ah, Claire. You and your glares will be sorely missed. I’m sorry I killed you before you could ever experience the awkward love from your much younger sidekick. I’m sorry you never found your sister. I promise she is alive and well. Rest in peace, you mean little cynic, and have fun giving all those other annoying dead people a piece of your mind.
***An obituary for Arturo: My dearest Arturo…*sigh*. I can’t lie: I wanted you to be real. You were funny and kind and called the mean people out on the mean things they did. You were brave, too, though perhaps not the smartest. But, alas, there was already a class clown, and he was taller than you. I’m sorry I couldn’t make you more important.