I hadn’t meant to kill her.
I certainly didn’t start out the day planning for it to happen. I didn’t even know it was happening, until I looked at what I’d wrought, and realized she was dead.
Somewhere deep down, though, I knew: it had to happen. I’d been waiting for it to happen.
That knowledge didn’t make it any easier to do. It didn’t make the squeeze of the trigger any less jerky, or the thunder of the shot any less loud. Or the pain I felt watching the once-bright light in her eyes go out any less acute.
One moment, she was there: fighting, struggling, strong. And the next, she simply…wasn’t. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t anything. She was just gone, like she’d never existed in the first.
I cried when I killed her. I honestly and truly did.
Sitting back, I had to stop. Everything. And let her have that one moment of my reflection. Because I hadn’t given her the chance to have anything else. Not the happiness she’d sought, or the love she’d desired. Not even the fleeting freedom for which she’d run and fought so hard.
I’d never killed anyone before. Not anyone who’d mattered. Flitting bystanders with no histories, random casualties of war: they didn’t make a difference. They had no stories.
This one, though. She’d had a story. A story I’d cut short, for a split-second of excitement. For the sake of mere plot.
“Acceptable losses,” I called her, the next day, after I’d had the time to reflect. A phrase to describe her and her ilk, the ones I’d left soulless and smoking along the way. Because in love and war, sacrifices must be made.
I knew it was for the best. I knew it had to be done.
But, I’d still cried.
I’ve been thinking about this topic ever since a recent blog post about what heroes can do, by Vanessa-Jane Chapman.
I’ve always thought death in stories should be warranted. Many of them are. They’re often valuable for completion of a story. But, when it came time to do the deed, myself, with one of my own…it got to me.
Let your story go where it needs to go, even if it’s someplace terrible. You may end up stronger for it. Or, you may end up realizing you’re not as nice a person as you’d always thought you were.
Death in your stories: how do you react?
I love how you told this Mayumi, and your personal journey through it. I think it’s that fear we have that if we write about killing someone we’re somehow blurring the line with really killing someone! And if we have created real characters then we care about them, in the same way as we cry sometimes when we watch movies where people die even though we are fully aware that they aren’t real!
Oh, and thank you for the shout out to my post!
Thanks, Vanessa. The post was something I’d been thinking on a while, but the impetus behind it was a rough go.
I remember hearing an interview with William Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride (among many other things, of course), saying he had a hard time killing one of his main characters, too. Of course, he found a way around the consequences of that particular death…but it still affected him deeply. A younger me might have scoffed at such sentimentality, but not any longer.
Thanks for commenting!
Oh, absolutely! 🙂 I kept thinking about one thing you said, in that post: “It makes the happy ending less happy when you know that people have died along the way.” It really stuck with me!
Wow, that was intense. Death is not something I take lightly, and it appears sparingly in my stories—always off-stage and sometimes before the story begins.
I do enjoy that about your mysteries, JM. 🙂
There really was no other option for this particular character. It doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt, though.
Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment.
I could totally relate to your experience as you wrote it, Mayumi. I think it makes sense to have these kinds of reactions to our characters. Much as I am saddened over their deaths, I’m joyful when they find their true loves or have a baby. 🙂
I killed off a main character in one of my NaNo novels, and it was totally unplanned and unexpected. While it bothered me deeply, and I found it difficult to keep writing, I also know it was the right thing to do. The death helped solve a mystery.
What I don’t like is needless deaths in stories that serve no purpose other than to fill page space or to jerk the dramatic cord. I need to have a character’s death move the story forward in some way.
I know what you mean by “needless” death, though sometimes, it’s precisely the senseless, random deaths that initiate plot. I roll my eyes at some stories – war stories, for example – where *nobody* dies. It’s just unrealistic.
Death is important; it happens to everyone. In the right hands, it can even be a poignant thing. And, stories are a great way to come to grips with that kind of loss. But, yes, I do find the manipulative deaths annoying.
I really like stories that treat death equally among all characters, good and bad, major and minor. It’s a rare thing to come across, though. Probably because it’s so difficult to handle well.
Thanks for commenting!
I haven’t killed a character yet. But I like the way you took us through your journey. 🙂
I don’t know how some authors can kill off beloved characters every story, Kourtney. I don’t envy them that.
The rough part for this one was that her death hadn’t been planned from the start. I’m sure death is simpler to handle when the writer knows from the beginning who’s going to make it and who’s got to be sacrificed. But, I basically pantsed my way through that NaNo story last year, and it was only as I got near the end that I realized that was the only direction that character could take.
When (if) you ever have to do this, I wish you better self-control than I had. Weeping in front of my computer earned me no brownie points with my husband. 😀