Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This Reaper Gig is Harder Than I Thought...


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.


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!


Magan said...

Now I'm sad all over again for Hunger Games...I also cried when Hedwig died in Harry Potter. I'm still mourning...

Sometimes I also think that if it's just not flowing then it's not supposed to happen. In something I wrote a year ago, I wanted the characters to fight and break up, but it just wasn't coming organically, so I changed it and it turned out SO much better.

Good luck!

Cynthia Lee said...

I think the key death at the end of Mockingjay hit me so hard more for what it meant to Katniss than because of any major attachment I felt for character who died.

That may be just me but that's how I felt.

K.M. Weiland said...

Killing off a character is one thing - making the character's death meaningful is a whole 'nother challenge. I actually did a study last year about what it is in favorite movies and books that allows character deaths to *work.* I came to several conclusions, chief among them being that the character dies for a good cause. We tend to love even generally unworthy characters if they die sacrificing themselves for a greater cause.

Abby Annis said...

I think a character's death has to deeply affect the characters the reader cares about in order for it to have any kind of real, lasting impact. Sure, you can care about the character that dies and be sad about it, but it's the lingering pain in the remaining characters that always gets to me.

And I totally hear you on going back and fixing things before you can move forward. I have that problem too. Good luck! I know you're going to make it awesome! Can't wait to read it! :)

Abby Annis said...

Love the new pic, btw! Very cute! :)

Cheree said...

I agree with Abby. A character's death has to affect the characters to make the reader care. If the characters didn't care then why should the reader?

I also didn't like that part of Mockingjay. I don't know what it was, I knew exactly why Collins did it, but I felt it was rushed and thrown in there for shock value (at the time)... I also loved little Prim.

Sara B. Larson said...

The thing about killing characters, is that different people will react differently no matter how hard you try to make it meaningful. As evidenced by Mockingjay - some people were touched by Prim's death, others hated it and thought it was contrived or whatever. I say just do what feels right to you (they're your characters, you know them best!) and hope the emotion it makes you feel comes through to your reader.

Icy Roses said...

Baahhhhhh I skipped like half of this post because I haven't read The Hunger Games yet, but I totally agree with the Boromir thing. He absolutely redeemed himself, and I hated him before that.

Tere Kirkland said...

Magan, I cried when Hedwig died, too! Seriously, that was one of the saddest moments for me.

I managed to get some writing done last night, like 2300 words, but I completely skipped over the death I had planned and went on to the next pov. Things went a little differently than I had planned in that chapter, anyway, but I just haven't been able to figure out exactly how I want it to go down yet. I'm pretty sure it has to happen, though, and in a few chapters I'm going to get to a point where the death makes a real difference to the plot, not just the characters' reactions to it, so I'm just going to have to buckle down and do it.

Cynthia, I think you're right. Part of the reason I had to go backwards was to show the reader how the pov characters care about or have come to care about Character X, to make the emotional bond more visceral for the reader.

K.M., this is another aspect of Character X's death that I've been mulling over. I would prefer a noble death, so that's part of the reason it's taken me so long to work things out. And that I'm not all that eager to off Character X.

Tere Kirkland said...

Abby, you know me, when I get stuck on how to go forward, I go back to the beginning. Of the scene, of the chapter, of the whole book sometimes. I edit as I go, so it makes me feel weird to leave those things unchanged. I keep trying to make myself change, to just burn through the drafting phase as fast as I can, but I've never really been able to do that.

I hope I get it done soon, so you can read it!

Cheree, I know what you mean about Mockingjay, and that part being rushed. It's still painful for me to read. But the more I think about it, the better it sits with me, if that makes sense.

Sara, you're so right. Not everyone will be happy, but as long as they keep reading, I think I won't mind. ;)

Tere Kirkland said...

Icy Roses, Boromir was a jerk for most of the movie, wasn't he? But I totally changed my mind about him. I probably liked him better once he was dead, seeing him through the eyes of his brother and Merry and Pippin.(We are talking about the movie, right? ;D)

Hannah Kincade said...

I killed a couple people in my book. I only planned one of the deaths and while I was sad, my CP said he needed to die. So I felt like she was expecting it too much and maybe it didn't have enough punch. I hope to remedy that during the revision process.

Good points.

Tess said...

the fact you are being so thoughtful (and I think your thoughts are spot on here) lets you know what a good writer you are. It does matter. The reader should care. And it will take a crap load of work and be really hard to go back and set it up. do it anyway (as I know you will).

Tere Kirkland said...

Hannah, that's quite a conundrum! It's hard when you're trying to make a death make sense, feel organic, but you don't want to "telegraph" it. This death comes pretty much out of the blue, so I hope my readers don't expect it. Although, after this post, they're obviously going to expect someone to die, so I guess I'll have to take my time finishing up, and hope they forget about it before they start critting. :)

Tess, thanks! I appreciate it! I'm trying to look at my writing more analytically lately, so it's good to know I'm on the right track.

Actually, I finally got figured out how to kill my character, and typed it out last night. It was hard to get the pieces to come together right, but I know it's the right decision on both an emotional and plot development level. I really hope that by the time I've edited, the scene will make my CPs cry. ;)

Solvang Sherrie said...

I don't know if you've read the other series Suzanne Collins wrote, Gregor the Overlander. It's a middle grade series with talking animals. I know. Don't say it because let me tell you, I HATE books with talking animals. But I LOVE these books just as much, maybe a tiny bit more (?!) than the Hunger Games series.

About halfway through book one she kills off a cockroach that we meet in the opening chapters. And every time I read that scene, I bawl. It's ridiculous because it's a cockroach for Pete's sake and he isn't even a main character. But the way it affects the main character, the reason the cockroach sacrifices its life for Gregor's little sister, that's what gets me choked up every time.

If you're looking for a seriously good death scene, read that book. Like you said, powerful stuff. And you're right to go back and seed in other stuff leading up to the death because that's what will make readers care when the character dies.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, I'm going to have to read The Hunger Games Trilogy again after reading this.

I love it when an author makes me cry because someone dies . . . for the most part. There have been some books I refuse to read because the author killed off the love interest in a previous book and I was devastated.