Killing My Friends

Killing My Friends

I’m writing a book. I know you’ve heard that one before. Seriously, I am writing my eleventh novel and have come to that point in the first draft where someone is going to die. I knew it was coming…thought about it…thought I had prepared for it…now the moment to commit to it is here..and I hesitate.

Painful as it may be, a character that I have grown to like immensely is going to bite the big one…go down for the permanent dirt nap. I say painful because, believe it or not, characters in my stories become my friends.

If you are a writer, you get that. If you are an avid reader, you probably also know it. They are my friends. In the writing of the story, we have grown together, become one. I know things about them…their past…where they come from…what they look like (in my mind)…their secrets…things only a good friend would know. Good friends don’t share secrets, not even to my other friends…you the readers.

I make a point of that…giving you enough of a character to develop your own picture and understanding…but I never give you everything I know about the characters I have written into life. When you read them, they become yours as much as mine, colored by your perception and imagination.

Anyway, the time has come to kill off one of my friends. I have been asked a few times over the years by people who seem to understand the relationship between a writer and his characters just how I go about doing that. How do I decide that this one lives and that one dies?

Stated like that it seems harsh, even arrogant, but in truth, I have very little to do with it. The determining factor in the death…or life…of any character, from my perspective is the story, and the commitment to write it honestly, without contrived endings, happy or otherwise.

For me, if the story is good, it stands alone. The movement through the plot should be natural. As I capture that action in words, there come moments when I know something bad is going to happen to one of my friends. At those moments, I force myself not to do what my heart wants to do. After all, I am the writer. I created this story. I can end it any way I want…kill or not kill whomever I want. Right?’

Not exactly. At least, not for me.

Although I may have set the story in motion, may have outlined it and have an ending point in mind, the story must unfold naturally and truthfully. That means that sometimes someone I care about will die, or suffer in a story.

I came to this understanding about my work in my first novel Eyes of the Predator. There was a scene in the opening chapters where an elderly man is killed. I didn’t want him to die. He was not a major character, but he was a colorful old fellow.

I remember smiling as I wrote the interaction and dialogue between him and his wife. I liked the old man. I could see myself sitting on the porch with him and his wife on a steamy Georgia evening, sipping iced tea and watching the lightning bugs hover over the grass. In fact, I had intended in my character sketch to keep him around and bring him back in later books in the series. Such was not his fate.

The story progressed and moved inexorably to the moment when I knew he would die. Writing his death was one of the hardest moments I have had since I began this adventure with words.

There have been others. No spoilers for those who may not have read all of the books, but if you have read them, you know who they are.

In the end, I tell people that it is not a matter of killing off, or not killing off people I like in my stories. It is a matter of remaining true to the story. For me, that is the key. Truth wins out over sentimentally contrived outcomes every time.

And so, some of my friends have died. Others will die. There is one right now awaiting his fate, so I had better take a deep breath,  swallow hard and get it over with. Goodbye, my friend.

 

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