Killing off characters is not fun. It’s especially not fun when you’ve had time to figure out the backstories that come with those characters. And that’s the thing, really—when you spend that much time thinking about your characters, and why they are where they are, and all of that, well, it’s like they become your friends simply due to the large amount of time that they spend occupying your brain. This happens whether it’s a “good guy” or a “bad guy”, although it’s always a good deal more nuanced than that. And as the writer, killing them off feels like a punch to the gut. A really, really hard one that makes your eyes water. Not crying, exactly, because it isn’t heartache that goes on for a long time. It’s more like the sudden numbness that comes along with a terrible tragedy, and it’s worse for you, because you feel responsible.
I figured that out recently.
The character was a minor one to begin with, until I decided he was interesting. So, I did the equivalent of character research, and I dug deeper into his backstory, and that was interesting too, so he became a major character. And the thing about major characters is that they either live happily ever after, they live miserably, or they don’t live at all. And this character had gotten himself into so much trouble that there was no way he was going to be able to live.
I was expecting that I would have to kill him off. I knew that it was coming. But it was still really, really painful to write the scene. But I wrote it anyway, because it was playing like a movie in my head, like the kind of scene that you can walk in on, and you want to walk away but you really can’t turn your eyes away from the screen. And it still felt like I was in the scene with the characters, and I’ll be honest, I was an emotional wreck for the next twelve hours.
I know that the character is fictional, and I know that it may be irrational to react as much as I did, and now anyone who reads this post will have probably decided that I am a crazy girl who gets way too attached to fictional characters whom she created. But I think that my reaction to this is a part of a much larger part of writing not often thought of, and less often discussed.
We desensitize ourselves to violence by watching violent and unrealistic television, or by the way we talk about it. But violence and death are very real, and we sometimes forget that. It’s very easy, as a writer, to use very forceful words and unintentionally add gore and pain to a scene, and to not even realize it until someone else reads it. Sometimes it is intentional, but what is intended as macabre just comes out as gross. I find it very important that I be affected by my own work, and by other people’s, because I am not a sadist. I find no pleasure in the pain that comes along with treading a line. If the pain were not in the story, then the story would not be as good, but if I were not affected by the pain, then there would be more of it, and then there might not even be a story. Or there would be a story, but it would be utterly lacking in verisimilitude, and then no one would read the aforementioned story.
So yes, sometimes I overreact. But if I’m overreacting, then it means I am reacting. And I think that that is very important, no matter how irrational it might seem.