Tcr

Committing Murder... Of Your Characters

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So, let’s not pretend this is me having an epiphany…  This is me procrastinating with a good question…  lol.

So, as I come to the end to one of the many stories I have here…  The major climax that leads to the denouement and subsequent finale and goodbye is becoming a pain in the ass to write.  I’ve been finding myself having trouble writing some deaths of characters that are both minor and major characters in the tale and have, hopefully, been good enough to warrant someone actually cheering for survival…  It’s problematic…  on every level.

So, my question, since I’m going to make a wild assumption that everyone grows attached to their characters (...we’re writers, I’m pretty sure we all do this…  Even Bob...)…  How do you all murder your characters?  Do you struggle with it?  Prefer it quick and simple as the end grows near or do you prefer long, drawn out deaths?  Do you find yourselves procrastinating?  Or is just an easy decision, like putting toast in the toaster?

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Lets give Bob a red shirt, see what happens :)

More seriously, it depends on the character.  If I’ve grown attached, I will typically procrastinate in the story, making sure they’ve had a good time, before I do the deed.  Method, the method, unfortunately, more depends on what I’m trying to achieve, and i generally go for simple methods too.  (Shove in front a train is about the most complicated I’ll do; gunshots are relatively humane.)   There was one character I took out last year, and the location was a nice suggestion from @DirtyAngel

In my current series, I tend not to depict on-screen deaths too often, I will but not often, instead typically making it out-of-sight, so it’s more of, ‘look, there’s a body!’

And while committing the deed, I’ll adjust the soundtrack on my computer, typically more sad/sorrow that helps me put me into that right frame of mind to follow through with it.

My $0.02 worth.

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I grow very attached to my characters, in the sense that, even when I get detached from a story and decide to drop it, the characters haunt me for months, sometimes years to come. As we speak, Blackbird is fucking taunting me. But even though I’m so attached to them, oddly enough, I don’t have any problem killing them off. If I got it planned right, like it comes at a pivotal moment and accomplishes something important, I get excited about it. High emotions, high tensions, those are some of the easiest scenes for me to write. When I killed off a main char in Blackbird, that scene took me an hour when most of the scenes in that damn story took me weeks, sometimes months. 

How I kill them off varies. I like to make it dramatic and bloody, but I tend to favour what’s best for the pace of the story. I’ll only really do an off-screen death if it needs to be a mystery to the reader… or if the character and their death isn’t all that important. 

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@CloverReefI think I remember that scene, you were in the zone at that time.  You were all like “I’m starting it” and then it was like “I’m done it!”  I was like…  Damn, that tornado blew through pretty fast.

And I definitely agree with the attachment to the characters.  I have grown attached to mine (even if I’m unsure anyone else has) and, beyond any measure of doubt, it makes it really hard with this scene.  Because I kind of don’t want to, but it also has to be done for various storytelling points and because I set it up throughout the last few chapters with that intention.  And it’s a really painful time to write (even if she isn’t an MC...)
But I wholeheartedly agree with that idea of high emotions and tensions.  In the one I referenced for me, it’s a scene that, in the last moments of the character, truly defines them, which makes it a highly emotional and highly important moment for said character.  I guess I’m always worried that those are the scenes that are going to fail badly in getting the point and the emotion across.  If that makes sense.  Because if it’s just another character death, then it’s a ‘meh’ sort of reaction.  (Which doesn’t intend to sound as bad as it probably does...)

@Desiderius PriceAll my characters I grow attached to.  Although I don’t entirely think that I’ve used this one as much as I probably could have.  She’s become more of a background character with higher importance (...does that make sense?  It makes sense to me...).  But the manner of death here is just…  Heroically emotionally painful…  So I’m procrastinating writing it.  lol.

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I’ve killed off characters often, despite how attached I get to them. It’s often literally painful for me, but if it’s necessary for the story, I’m ruthless about it. I take Stephen King’s advice: “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

(Which is, of course, Mr. King quoting William Faulkner: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings” who was in turn quoting Arthur Quiller-Couch: “If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” Sort of a stretch to interpret that as killing off one’s characters, but there we are. :D)

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You know, it’s a bit scary with everybody plotting cold blooded murder in here…. :safetocomeout: 

@CloverReef  On screen vs off screen deaths, depends on the importance and severity of it.   Had one story where I was going to have the main character (+2 friends) witness a mass-murder… but then I kinda realized it’d mess them up more than I wanted, so I made a compromise, rewrote the scene so they wouldn’t be where they’d see a thousand, instead, just a couple of the victims trying to escape, with the rest implied.  Overall, better for the story.

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One editor told me I write romance with a body count. I suppose if I was writing detective romances, that might be good, but, sadly, I just like killing off characters.

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14 minutes ago, BronxWench said:

One editor told me I write romance with a body count. I suppose if I was writing detective romances, that might be good, but, sadly, I just like killing off characters.

This is pretty much how any romance fanfic revolving around Sherlock Holmes or John Watson ends up being if it’s not a one-shot.

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Killing off characters has always been a huge problem for me because I do end up getting really attached. I really haven't had any stories (original or otherwise) where I’ve actually done the deed yet, though I know that in certain ones there should realistically be a body count. When I do finally decide to off someone (very reluctantly), I really want there to be a solid  reason for it, instead of just doing it for shock value/attention, or because a character is or becomes “boring”, etc. These are reasons I’ve seen characters be bumped off  in shows/books/etc, and it’s pretty transparent.

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1 hour ago, Dirty Unicorn said:

Killing off characters has always been a huge problem for me because I do end up getting really attached. I really haven't had any stories (original or otherwise) where I’ve actually done the deed yet, though I know that in certain ones there should realistically be a body count. When I do finally decide to off someone (very reluctantly), I really want there to be a solid  reason for it, instead of just doing it for shock value/attention, or because a character is or becomes “boring”, etc. These are reasons I’ve seen characters be bumped off  in shows/books/etc, and it’s pretty transparent.

Well it is a good way to get rid of a boring character lol, provided you don't care if the reader cares about the death. And provided the death serves a purpose. Might jarr your reader out of the story if it comes in the middle of a kittens and rainbows WAFF fest. I can't say I've done this to boring characters though. I try not to feature the boring ones. 

I don't know about shock value. If you write horror or thriller I think a little dose of shock is necessary. Sometimes the intent is to just outright shock or horrify them. Gratuitous violence can be fun. Campy B horror anyone? Other times it just cheapens things so it depends on what I'm writing or reading. 

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6 hours ago, BronxWench said:

One editor told me I write romance with a body count. I suppose if I was writing detective romances, that might be good, but, sadly, I just like killing off characters.

“Romance with a body count”, sounds like the one I wrote.  I did it to portray how that society viewed and marginalized a particular segment of its population, both in life and death.  (ie, funeral/mortuary generally refusing to even touch the body)

1 hour ago, CloverReef said:

I don't know about shock value. If you write horror or thriller I think a little dose of shock is necessary. Sometimes the intent is to just outright shock or horrify them. Gratuitous violence can be fun. Campy B horror anyone? Other times it just cheapens things so it depends on what I'm writing or reading. 

While gratuitous violence can definitely be fun, this can definitely cheapen because how much effort are you going to invest in a character you’re just going to kill off, especially if you’re doing a thousand of them?  If you’re going for realism, any surviving characters will have a very bad case of PTSD; which is why I chose to portray two instead of a thousand in my case, figuring two still had the shock value while implying the other thousand.

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Hmm. I get very attached to mine, even the neutrals/supporting if I develop them beyond a certain point. And my leads? Nah, I don’t think I could kill them, outside flash or one-shots. (even that is rare) I prefer centering on growth and hope so true-death is rare. [my first story had the lead get resurrected a lot, so it wasn’t anything permanent]

Many of my stories are slice of life epilogues, so it’s more about rebuilding after the big bad is gone. I don’t want to lessen the ‘big badness’ by new big bads to kill, just smaller bads. Deaths, messy deaths, get in the way of healing and growth. (#screwPalpy)

So I am very light on deaths of named characters, I may even be surprised when I’ve started redemption arcs for demi-big bads. Even more when I see a place for them in the post saga plot that is especially fun… if I kill Dooku after all, he cannot be on the Council on Earth after the end.

I’m hoping to work on my treatment of villains, but I’m terrible at killing all my characters. It’s probably a bigger weakness in my writing. Plots are problems to solve, and I like elegant solutions that minimize death and destruction. Deaths don’t cure many problems or character flaws. Sure, killing me would stop my nail biting, but that’s just an obnoxious development and has no meaning. Memorable stories have meaning.

“Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”   The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

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With rare exceptions, all my characters do have names even if they’re just “the cashier” in the story, and I do get attached to my characters, especially the leads, so on that rare occasion one must die, I have to remind myself it’s for the greater good of the stories/universe.   A lead’s death generally has a point to be made, a reason it’s being done.

In my original universe, death is permanent, the character cannot generally appear in another story after said date.  (Dreams/nightmares/etc in the living are the exception to that).  Of course, characters that are presumed to be dead … ie, missing, or mistaken postmortem identification … different matter entirely, because that can be fun, like my 2015 halloween story can attest to.

Most gruesome/grizzly death written by me (for any character, lead or minor) has to be the woodchipper.  Most gore, I’m thinking my 2017 halloween story.

Now this has me thinking about my unfinished Harry Potter story… that had a bunch of deaths, but at least that Weasley herd was getting thinned a bit.

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Elegant solutions are totally a good way to go. I think it takes a certain kinda writer with a sense for that kinda thing to keep them meaningful and interesting, and I envy that. My mains are very rarely the elegant solutions type though, so the proverbial blunt-weapon-to-the-head solutions tend to happen. My favourite type of book is the fast paced, thriller, so I tend to lean in that direction in my writing. When at all possible. For some reason when I try to get too poignant and meaningful, my readers get confused lol.

Edited by CloverReef

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32 minutes ago, CloverReef said:

My mains are very rarely the elegant solutions type though, so the proverbial blunt-weapon-to-the-head solutions tend to happen.

I hadn't noticed.  Lol.

I think it all depends on the writer.  An 'elegant solution' written by the blunt force writer won't really work that well, even well written, because of the style.  Which I'm probably repeating…

I think, too, it depends a lot on what sort of feeling You, as writer, want to convey.  A quick death can be intense, fast, and portray a "blink and you miss it" situation.  A slow one can also be intense, but be meant to show a devastating death that's meant to linger in the minds of the reader.

Maybe I shouldn't answer when tired...

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Why do I feel like this might be dragged out into court?   “Objection!  Just because my client may have been discussing slow cooking vs flame broiling their murder victims has no relevance to this case!”  (While also ignoring the BBQ pictures in the evidence pile.)

59 minutes ago, Tcr said:

I think, too, it depends a lot on what sort of feeling You, as writer, want to convey.  A quick death can be intense, fast, and portray a "blink and you miss it" situation.  A slow one can also be intense, but be meant to show a devastating death that's meant to linger in the minds of the reader.

I’ve done it both ways, and it comes down to the circumstances.  An illness can easily be drawn out, however, the quick can be a blink-blink-unexpected sort of thing, really jarring to a character (especially the one getting unexpectedly murdered).

 

1 hour ago, CloverReef said:

Elegant solutions are totally a good way to go. I think it takes a certain kinda writer with a sense for that kinda thing to keep them meaningful and interesting, and I envy that. My mains are very rarely the elegant solutions type though, so the proverbial blunt-weapon-to-the-head solutions tend to happen. My favourite type of book is the fast paced, thriller, so I tend to lean in that direction in my writing. When at all possible. For some reason when I try to get too poignant and meaningful, my readers get confused lol.

I drift to elegant, appropriate, it’s still a situational dependent thing.  As I also tend to strive for realism, this restricts how the deed can be carried out, also tends to make me focus on simple/available ways.  i.e.  rage+fight on the platform to the train becomes a push in front of an incoming train.

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Most character deaths in my stories are planned well in advance – sometimes when I’m first conceiving of the character. Thus, even if I become attached to the character, it’s okay when they die, because the way they die is part of who they are. I couldn’t change my mind and save the character from death without changing who the character is. 

Of course, this only applies to characters that I myself created. I don’t think I’ve ever killed a canon character in a fanfic (although I’ve killed off OCs in fanfics). 

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On 6/8/2018 at 4:03 AM, GeorgeGlass said:

Of course, this only applies to characters that I myself created. I don’t think I’ve ever killed a canon character in a fanfic (although I’ve killed off OCs in fanfics). 

I did in my first one.  Though, to be fair, this was before OotP and JKR was hinting that somebody would die, so I made my guess.  I like my guess better than canon :)

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On 6/7/2018 at 10:03 PM, GeorgeGlass said:

Most character deaths in my stories are planned well in advance – sometimes when I’m first conceiving of the character. Thus, even if I become attached to the character, it’s okay when they die, because the way they die is part of who they are. I couldn’t change my mind and save the character from death without changing who the character is. 

Of course, this only applies to characters that I myself created. I don’t think I’ve ever killed a canon character in a fanfic (although I’ve killed off OCs in fanfics). 

Man I wiiiish I could plan ahead like this! But then I know what’s going to happen and I lose interest, like ridiculously quick. My deaths are usually thought out 1-3 chapters ahead. Every now and then when it feels right, it’ll just happen in the moment. This sounds like I’m killing off characters left and right, lol, but I’m really not. I don’t kill off characters all that often. Maybe it’s weird, but I kinda wish I killed them off more often, but those perfect moments don’t happen nearly enough. 

Edited by CloverReef

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15 hours ago, CloverReef said:

Man I wiiiish I could plan ahead like this! But then I know what’s going to happen and I lose interest, like ridiculously quick. My deaths are usually thought out 1-3 chapters ahead. Every now and then when it feels right, it’ll just happen in the moment. This sounds like I’m killing off characters left and right, lol, but I’m really not. I don’t kill off characters all that often. Maybe it’s weird, but I kinda wish I killed them off more often, but those perfect moments don’t happen nearly enough. 

For me, major deaths are generally planned...kinda as goal posts.  Though I do worry that I’ll subtly sabotage and weaken the characterization a bit so I don’t get too attached to the condemned. 

 

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Stupidest reason I have ever had for killing off a character, was because my beta at the time thought the character was irritating. It was the main character… And I killed him like chapter 2. lol, story took a maaaaajor shift in another direction right there, and not for the better. I don’t recommend it. 

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5 hours ago, CloverReef said:

Stupidest reason I have ever had for killing off a character, was because my beta at the time thought the character was irritating. It was the main character… And I killed him like chapter 2. lol, story took a maaaaajor shift in another direction right there, and not for the better. I don’t recommend it. 

:behead: “oopsie”

Yeah, I think these characters might have grounds to sue us for emotional distress…

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I often get attached to my characters, and while sometimes might have trouble letting go I still can because it can make the story better. Granted my current story is an Urban Fantasy with stripes of horror, so there’s a decent amount of gruesome death. And I often have it on page to be read. 

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