A thread on weblit.us got me thinking about character deaths.
There is something intensely satisfying for me in the death of a character. But then, I have always been a glutton for punishment. I love books that make me cry, and killing off someone I like is bound to upset me (duh!).
I’m not talking about killing off minor sidekicks, those characters you put in the story knowing they’re going to die, like how the new recruits in Star Trek were doomed to bite the dust before the episode’s end. I’m talking about real blows, about characters you’ve grown to love that unexpectedly leave, about Sirus’ death (sob! I think I took his death harder than Harry did.).
From a reader’s perspective, a death like that pulls me into the story on a deeply emotional level. Perhaps because it is a safe way to mourn for the little deaths in my own life — the stresses and worries and losses — as it provides a catharsis of sorts. Or because it feels real, far more than any happily-ever-after.
But as an author, killing off your own character is a whole different ballgame. The perks are that you can really dig down into the other characters, because it is their story that matters, their coping with loss that we need to read. The problem is, by killing off a character, you’ve cut off his story. Was it his time?
It’s so tempting to kill someone at the end of a story, where you know it couldn’t have gone further. But, during some recent outlining, I realized that one character needed to go, that maybe their story wasn’t yet told, but life and time waited for no one. So, in my outline, I wrote down that scary four-letter word. (No, not that one. I’m talking about ‘dies’.)
I am steeling myself for when I eventually have to write that scene, because I know it’s going to be a tear-jerking ride. But when I’m done writing, I know it’s going to leave me with that strange satisfaction of the beautifully tragic.
What do you think of character deaths? And when you’re writing, how do you decide when it’s time for someone to die?