by Michelle Smith
I’m a firm believer in crafting a story that’s not only realistic, but one that does justice to both its characters and readers. The story needs to be raw, it needs to be full of emotion, and the plot progression needs to be believable. When I begin the process of creating characters, there’s a part of me that latches onto these people. Many authors, myself included, will tell you their characters are practically comparable to children. We know their quirks, their dreams, and their secrets. We laugh with them, we cry with them, and we mourn with them when things go awry. We want nothing but the best for these little darlings. So… what happens when the storyline calls for one of your creations to die?
Death isn’t something many people like to discuss, but the fact remains that it is natural. Death comes to us all at some point or other. However, when you have to instill such a fate for one of your precious characters, it tends to hurt the heart a little. I recently completed a story in which one of my characters – one I adored, might I add – met an untimely fate. It’s hard, but remember that little bit about “doing your story justice?” Keep that in mind. In the long run, your story is what matters most. I cried for my fella, but in order to push the story forward, I just had to keep on writing. The story simply wouldn’t have been able to go on without his death.
There are plenty of excuses that can be used in an attempt to skate around the elephant in the room:
“But I love this character so much!” I get it. Trust me. It’s not easy, and it’s not fun, but keep your plot in mind. I can’t stress that enough. If you try and tweak your way around an inevitable character death, your story will suffer. I repeat: your story will suffer. Readers are smart. Don’t ever underestimate your audience.
“But I don’t like writing death scenes!” There aren’t many people who do. Honestly, as an author, sometimes you just have to suck it up. Don’t be a chicken.
“It’s too haaaaard!” *insert toddler foot-stomp* Whining gets you nowhere. Yes, we all need to whine once in a while, but does it put words in that document? Yeah. I didn’t think so.
I’m about as sensitive as they come. JK Rowling very nearly killed me with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I cried ugly tears throughout the eight hundred-plus pages. She crafted these characters we all loved and rooted for, and then just took so many away from us within the span of a single book. But you know what? I can forgive her for it because while I know she received a lot of flak for those deaths, I truly believe each one had a purpose. There are plenty of other authors who have written deaths with key plot points in mind: John Green, Jay Asher, and Suzanne Collins, just to name a few. *Sidenote: they’re all fantastic. Check them out.
I’m not writing this to encourage you to “Kill all the characters!” I’m writing this to encourage you to do what’s right for your story. You created these characters. You gave them life. Don’t you also want to create a world in which their story can be done justice? And yes, that can mean killing the poor saps off. It hurts. It stings. But sometimes, it’s also necessary.
Michelle Smith is an author of young adult fiction, and is currently querying her first novel. You can find more information about her at her website: www.msmithbooks.com