In last week's post, I promised I was going to kill off a character in my WiP. I'm still gonna, don't get your knickers in a twist, but I just wanted to share the problems I'm having with you all. Here goes:
Let's assume for now that this death WILL make the book better. But... In order to move forward, I have to take a few steps back. Sure, some people are confident enough to alter the plot in their head and keep moving forward like everything's changed, but I just can't do that. It feels like I'm writing an alternate universe of what I'd originally planned, and that just keeps nagging at me until it's closer to the new version of reality. And I like to have most of the pieces set up before I can knock over that last domino.
In part, there are numerous alterations I need to make to the plot for this death to feel more organic, more believable. But more than that, I wanted to go back and make sure that everything that character has done up to this point will make them a character the reader will miss.
I want the reader to be bawling when it comes, because the death has hit them as hard as it affects me. I want the reader to say, "No!!! Why, Tere Kirkland?" (Because we all call authors by their full names when we're mad that they've killed a character, right? What, I'm the only one who said, "No!!! Why, Suzanne Collins??" at least three times during the Hunger Games Trilogy? I doubt that very much! :P )
I want, more than anything else, for this death to be meaningful, and not feel like something that I decided to do just to move the plot forward. (Which, yes, in part it is, but shhh! No one needs to know that!) I can't tell you how many times I've been affected by a death in a book, but I can tell you that the reason I bawled my eyes out until I could barely read the print in front of me was because the author made me care.
Sometimes the character might start out as a jerk, but redeem themselves in death. (Boromir, I never really liked you, but you sure redeemed yourself by protecting those hobbits. Plus you died like a bad-ass, which is befitting a steward of Gondor.)
Other times, it's just painful, and seems unfair. (Oh, Beth, why did you have to give that poor family the hot potato from your muff and then catch your death of cold? Why?!!1!)
Speaking of Collins (rather than just invoking her name, lol), her use of death in Mockingjay still affects me.
***SUPER MOCKINGJAY SPOILER ALERT***
I know some people hated the scene where Prim dies/is murdered by what is probably Gale's invention. As I was reading, I didn't really like it either, but not for the reasons most people did. What I hated was that there was no scene where Katniss grieves for her sister, not in a satisfying way, just a "That's unfair!" way. At least, not until she gets back to District 12 and that damn cat comes home yowling for her. Oh, Buttercup! How was it that the sense of loss was so much greater when experienced—not through the emotions of her sister Katniss, who was pretty well emotionally numb up to this point, and with good reason—through the perspective of that mangy old cat.
It really makes the first scene in The Hunger Games that much more poignant for me when I re-read it, so much so that I sometimes cry when I get to a certain line:
"Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love."
Sometimes I can't even make it any farther than that.
That is power. That is the kind of death I want for this character, even though Prim had the benefit of three books for the reader to get to know and love her, and I'm killing off this character about halfway through book 1.
But is it Prim herself, her own actions, her dialogue, that make the reader care for her? Or is it more than that? I mean, we see early on how much Katniss cares for Prim, literally keeping her alive when their father died and their mother grieved. The horrible moment when Prim's name is drawn, Katniss can barely function. She can only think of one thing: to sacrifice herself for her sister. And THAT is what makes our emotional connection to Prim so strong. Powerful stuff!
Has anyone else given this much thought to the "legacy" a killed-off character leaves behind? What do you do to make their death more meaningful? I'd love to hear it!