I have never killed off a character in any of my stories…yet. When wrestling with the idea of how to kill them, when, if it’s even necessary, or what that means for the rest of my story, I try and think of other stories that have dealt with this issue.
First, I think of The Lovely Bones. This is not a spoiler alert because Alice Sebold tells you in the book jacket description in the opening cover, that Susie Salmon is dead. She dies in the first chapter. I have never read a more gutsy book where the author kills off her main character right away, only to resurrect her in the form of a ghost, to tell her story. Some of you may think that there isn’t a difference. It’s still Susie and she is still speaking in first person, so why treat it like it’s something special that she died in the first few pages? What’s the point?
The point is that in her moment of death, Susie instantly became burned in your brain as a tragic character. The same goes for Skeeter Phelan from The Help, who is branded a heroic character when she voices her determination to reveal the truth about the treatment of household help.
The hardest job for any writer is to make a memory. It isn’t the writing itself that is most difficult when putting a pen to paper. Instead, it is how the writer will make an imprint on the mind of the reader. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to have a memorable character. You can have five, ten, even twenty memorable characters if you can manage it, but as long as you have one who stands out above all of the other words in the book, you have done your job well.
I am currently struggling with that right now. How do you focus on your main character, but have a chorus of others who need to be heard as well? How do you devote enough time and attention to the main character without making the rest of the cast seem like an afterthought? My issue is that I want certain characters to be remembered, and others to be known, and yes, there is a difference.
That being said, I can’t wait for the day when a publisher picks up my book, wants to work on it, and then changes the exact things I have wrestled with for months. Just giving you all a little insight to my writing life right now. It’s not so much writer’s block as it is smashing the crap out of a block until there is nothing left but tiny bits and pieces of fragmented ideas, and I am the only one who will sit there with a glue stick, putting them back together again.