Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Pain of Killing Your Characters

Ever wonder how novelists decide which of their characters to eliminate? I was forced to kill a character I loved because I had written myself into a corner. I was so upset that I cried and had to stop writing that day. I then remembered something Benjamin Capps once told me during an interview:

“Probably no reader of mine ever felt so strongly or shed a small tear unless I had already done so in the writing.”

Emotional investment in a writer’s characters is undoubtedly what makes a novel successful. If an author doesn’t really care about her characters, why should the reader? But how involved does a writer have to be to make her readers care? That’s a question someone smarrter than I am will have to answer.

I do know, however, that many of us live with our characters 24/7, until the book is finished. That's when it’s hard for me to let go, which is why I like writing a series. The characters to whom I’ve given birth can age right along with me, unless, of course, I’m forced to kill them off.

After covering a police beat for eight years and writing about the worst aspects of human nature, I decided to write an amateur sleuth series. My Logan & Cafferty series features two 60-year-old women; one a private investigator’s widow, the other a mystery novel buff. In the first book, A Village Shattered, the women are forced to discover the identity of a compulsive murderer, who is alphabetically doing away with their friends. They also discover that their own names are on the killer’s list.

In the second novel, Diary of Murder, I placed them in a motorhome in the midst of a Rocky Mountain blizzard. I had previously killed one my character’s sister, but the reader doesn’t get to know her until her diary is found and read throughout the novel.

I like my main characters because they’re witty and sassy, according to one reviewer, and I could never bring myself to eliminate them as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempted with Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie with Herculue Peroit. They're like old friends whom I enjoy visiting every day to listen in on their conversations.

Do you love your main characters or do you tire of writing about them and want to kill them off?


  1. LOL No, no, no! I don't want to EVER kill them off. :) However, now I have to read your next book to see who you eliminate. I can only imagine how you feel about killing one of the characters.

  2. If a character is worth writing about, I don't think I'd ever tire of her. Now, I'm a YA author, so most of my characters are young--which makes it even more heart-wrenching to kill them.

    There was one story that simply had to end in the death of a handsome 17-year-old boy who had just fallen in love. There was no way for the story to carry the impact it did without his death at the finale. I wrote the last scene at 11am on a Sunday; I cried for an hour afterward, and I couldn't bear to see anyone the rest of the day.

    I think it depends on the character, and how much you have invested in him or her. I've killed off minor characters without a thought.

  3. It was Diary of Murder, Marja. I had to kill off one of my favorite characters and Dana Logan's love interest because he was going to solve the murders instead of my amateur sleuths, so he had to die. (sob).

  4. Kiersi, I also write YA-middlegrade novels and I can't bring myself to kill anyone off in them. I'm afraid it would be too traumatic for my young readers, although they see plenty of violence and death on television.

  5. I love my main character, but I just started writing a new series!