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May 03 2011

Sometimes It’s Hard

I just found out that one of my favorite characters will die.  Oh, it hurts.

This is something only writers truly understand.  Yes, you can grieve for someone you’ve created, who exists only in your mind and on the page.  No, there’s nothing you can do to save them.

I once had someone, an acquaintance from long ago, give me a strange look and a smile that’s hard to describe – something between a smirk and confusion – when I told them I’d reached the point in the story where I had to write up the death of someone I’d come to like very much.  It was going to hurt like hell, I said, trying to steel myself for it.  And she, poor, sweet, innocent thing, gave me that weird little smile and said, “Well, you’re the writer.  You don’t have to kill him.  You can just write him alive.”

Forgive me, but I’ve never come so close to hitting someone.  I tried to explain it’s not that easy.  When you’re writing a war, it’s not just the bad guys who die.  Good people, necessary people, die, sometimes horribly, and you can’t flinch away from that no matter how hard it hurts you.  You sit down.  You put your fingers on the keys.  And you do them justice.  Then you weep, and you go on.

This is something non-writers too often don’t get.  Yes, writers have choices.  We have some measure of control over a story.  But if we’re writing honestly, we don’t get to pick and choose who lives and who dies.  And those story people are so real to us that we mourn them as if we’d just lost a friend.

If I can’t cry, how will you, dear reader?

2 comments

  1. 1
    Karen

    In my foray into fiction writing, I eventually had to write the deaths of two of my favorite characters. I actually found myself crying as I wrote the text. I'd lived with these guys in my head for years, they were both good people, and it hurt to see them die. But the story demanded it.

  2. 2
    Lockwood

    You make a point that is central to what I consider good writing. I used to think of this quality as "realistic," but that doesn't quite get at the idea. I made quite an effort in my late teens and twenties to survey SF from the late 1800's through contemporary, and look at patterns and themes that were consistent through that century-long period. It really wasn't until the 60's and 70's that the quality of what I now call "honesty" emerged- the idea that events converge toward some hard truths. An honest writer will face those truths and try to make the best of them. A dishonest author will not, and will spin some deus ex machina to arrive at a happy ending. There is very little that annoys and exasperates me as reader more.

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