Until November, I’d never killed off a character before. Really. Never.
I’ve never written something before that required me to follow someone along in the story, only to write in their demise in a brief, sudden instant – not because they deserved it, but because it just had to happen that way.
I’d heard that it was hard to do, and I’d read stories about authors sitting at their computers, weeping over the keyboard at the heartbreak of such a task, whether they’d planned it to happen or not.
I didn’t buy it. I scoffed; I thought they were bluffing; I said to myself “they’re exaggerating, that’s ridiculous”; I rolled my eyes every time someone new posted about their heartbreaking character death.
Then it came time for me to kill off a character in my own story… and that’s when the moment of truth hit.
As I began to write in the character’s demise, I realized something: my eyes were beginning to water. My throat became slightly constricted. I needed a kleenex.
I began to cry. For my character, and for how wrong it was for someone like this to meet their end the way the story required. There was no other way, and I felt sorry for him. It was unjust, his death. And yet… that was how it had to be.
So I wondered: How can someone who is both a) not real and, b) theoretically driven by my own hand, have such an impact on me as a writer? Why would anyone cry for the death of a character they created, when it was their own story that directed that death to occur?
From the comments I’ve heard from other writers, it’s that very same development of a character from beginning to end (birth to death, in a sense?) that causes the emotional attachment which elicits such strong feelings in scene-writing. A particularly joyous scene for a writer’s characters will likely give the writer a high for the rest of the day (whether he or she is aware of it or not), while writing a particularly difficult and depressing scene may also influence the writer’s mood that way. In that respect, I think it helps the writer, because it means they’re in tune with their characters and can be authentic in the way they portray their experiences.
However, when it comes to writing a character’s death, things start to get personal, especially if a writer is particularly fond of their creation. It was a bit traumatic for me to write my character’s death, and I hadn’t even really been with them for that long. I can’t even begin to imagine the emotional trauma that comes with killing off a character like, for example, Gollum or Harry Potter. I believe J.K. Rowling has been quoted as saying she bawled her eyes out for days after killing Harry (or Dumbledore, for that matter): simply put, it hurts to hurt someone you love, even if they’re fictional. Because to a writer? Characters are more real than you know… they’re living, breathing entities that a writer shares every day with, all day.
Characters can become some of a writer’s best friends… and that’s why it can tear an author apart to see them suffer and die.
I used to scoff. Now I understand.