W.A.R.S.: The Character Killing Fields

I killed a character today.

And it bothered me….because it was easy. So many authors have commented on how difficult it is killing their characters, I expected procrastination and pain. But I didn’t even need to spend twenty minutes picking a soundtrack song, like I do to set the mood for most scenes with a high emotional charge. I just committed a quick literary murder and ambled off to make lunch.

Now, with the inky blood drying on my hands, I wonder how it could be so straightforward. Maybe it’s because I’d planned this character’s demise from the beginning, so by the time I reached the fatal moment at the end of chapter thirteen, I was prepared to drop the guillotine. Or maybe, like so many in my generation, I’ve been desensitized by a lifetime of violent video games and gruesome TV crime dramas. Offing a character with a few strokes of the keyboard seems humane in comparison.

Writers all react differently to the necessity of killing characters.

Writers all react differently to the necessity of killing characters.

This doesn’t mean I don’t love my little imaginary minions. Characters shouldn’t be game pieces for advancing a story; they are the story. I learned this fundamental as a teenager, watching a particular television show that regularly employed the flimsiest plot lines imaginable. But the characters were so layered and dynamic, I didn’t care. I would have watched the cast go to the grocery store (arguably this would been an improvement from the average episode). As a believer in character-driven narratives, I strive to make even my secondary characters interesting. You can’t do that without developing some degree of attachment. Shouldn’t this make it harder to kill them?

It could all be a matter of personality. J.K. Rowling, an author I admire for her intricate storytelling, described bursting into tears after killing a character in one of her Harry Potter novels. Other authors are notorious for slaughtering their casts with sociopathic efficiency (you create brilliant characters, Mr. Martin, but cut ’em some slack)! I’m somewhere in the middle. I empathize with my characters, but I’m not a sentimental person by nature, so in the end pragmatism prevails.

This character is but the first to fall; my story outline calls for several more names on the butcher’s bill. We’ll see if I develop any qualms about fictional homicide as the bodies pile up. In the meantime, I’d love comments about your experiences in the character killing fields.

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