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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Killing a Main Character

A few people expressed curiosity in the mental process that I went through to kill off one of my main characters.

For me, it was a culmination of two things:

#1: I had two characters that were very similar. Many of my reviewers commented that characters A and B had very distinct voices, but C and D sounded the same. They couldn't tell who was saying what without the names, and neither one of them stood out strongly. Several chapters in to the novel, one reviewer said, "We finally got to see a little bit of C's personality when she and B had a heart to heart talk. Up until now, she's been kind of a shadow character. This was nice to see."

Nobody likes hearing that they have a character with no voice, and I was particularly attached to this character. At one point, she was THE main character. But slowly character A became larger and larger, taking over the role of main character. As A's character developed, C became smaller and smaller. When enough people commented that C and D were too similar, I made the difficult decision to get rid of one.

#2: The book needed something to jump-start it. My readers started chapters 1 and 2 thinking they were reading a 'slice-of-life' novel, when in actuality it is a psychological thriller. Right away, I needed to let my readers know what was at stake. I decided to start the book with a murder scene.

But who to murder? Well, that was pretty easy, since I'd already decided that character C needed to go. I had two choices: simply have the girls be a trio, or have them start as a quartet and kill of C. I decided to kill her off.

I knew that I would instantly accomplish two things: alienate some readers who couldn't handle the murder of a teenager, and reel in everyone else when they realized this is a high-stakes novel. Even main characters can die.

It was hard to take away C's future. She had plans in the novel, and the moment I killed her, I took all of it away. There were lives she would no longer touch, people who would no longer love her. I mourned for one boy in particular, who was supposed to find his soul mate in C, and instead he ends up alone.

But it was also far too easy. Almost every part she played in the novel, I could assign to character D. That's how I knew I'd made the right decision. My critiquers are usually spot on.

Have you ever had to make a life or death decision with a character? How did you deal with it, especially if you decided to kill the character? And if you're not a writer, what color socks are you wearing?

13 comments:

Sara McClung ♥ said...

I haven't done it yet, but I'm not quite outta the woods.

I feel like it'd be just like having to cut a chapter (which I HAVE done). Really hard to decide on and then really awesome when you're finished and super excited with the new result!

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

yeah, that's pretty much it. The result was fantastic. Not that I want to kill any one else off...

Elisa said...

tan

David J. West said...

Because I am doing a series-set within a battle-tastic realm, the bodies will evantually stack up like cordwood, especially in book 2.

I think the trick is never knowing who or when someone might be elimanated. I'm thinking that it will invest anger in some but resonate a urgency and concern for most readers.

Simon C. Larter said...

Haven't killed a character yet. I'm wearing white socks. Thanks for asking. :)

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

LOL, Simon. Thanks for telling. My socks are green.

David, I would imagine in your books, you've had to kill a lot of characters that you were attached to. How have you dealt with that? Do you try to keep yourself emotionally detached from them, or do you just cry after you kill them?

SB said...

I find it interesting reading about the writing process. I often think maybe one day I will suddenly be hit with some great novel idea and want to write...but then I read stuff like this and realize it's just so far out of my reach! the depth! the depth!

David J. West said...

What does cry mean?

Dawné Dominique said...

Tamara, no one likes to have their character "offed". It's a very emotional severing to do. I know...I've done it a few times. Some readers can get pretty darn upset about it, too. I have two vampire novellas that are not related in any shape or form to each other, but neither of them end on happy notes. But hey, they're vampires, remember? I can reanimate, if I want to. *evil laugh* Their characters are going to be reunited in another series. Unfortunately, I forgot to add a little footnote to that effect at the end of them. Yes, I've rec'd a few emails that have been from "upset" readers. The way I look at is if they felt that much for the character then I must have done something right.

Suffice it to say, a small piece of you dies when you have to kill off a character. You've given birth to him/her, so to speak...and to kill one off is like doing so to one of your children.

Btw, I'm wearing big, white fluffy socks because my dungeon is chilly tonight. :()

Huggers,
Dawné

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

SB, after you've been working on a manuscript for 3+ years, the depth just kind of comes naturally.

David, what do you think crying means??? sheesh. :)

Great points, Dawne. If the reader cares that much about the character, I did something right!

Amber said...

hahahahahah....white with blue on the heel and toe.

Ralene said...

Killing off Peter in The Impossible Choice was the hardest scene I've ever had to write. I bawled through the whole thing. My sister, who was watching my girls that Saturday so I could write, thought I was wacko--that is until she read the story later on and bawled her eyes out too.

In my WIP, I killed off one of the supporting characters and it wasn't nearly as emotional of an experience for me. I actually felt more for my hero who found his uncle gruesomely murdered. *shiver*

What are these socks you speak of? I want some!

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

You don't have any socks, girl? Or you want some of my green ones?

I remember you talking about your sister's reaction to that scene. Funny how involved we get!

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