In the movie Stranger than Fiction, Will Farrell plays a man with a very a boring and predictable life. He’s an IRS auditor, and a good man, but he lives by his watch. Every morning he does the same thing at exactly the same time—every routine task for getting ready for work has been assigned a particular time of the day which he follows precisely.
Then, one morning, he hears a narrator’s voice in his head. She recounts what he’s doing and then makes uncannily correct observations about what’s going to happen next. (For the first time in his life, Harold Crick is about to miss his bus.)
He starts getting worried. The narrator is too spot-on. Is he losing his mind? Eventually, Harold discovers that he’s a character in a book. And, he’s going to die. He decides to convince the author of his book to spare him. And he, the man who lives each day exactly the same to the minute, decides to give his life a complete overhaul.
Although this film wasn’t exactly a blockbuster hit, its premise was very interesting to me. I remember JK Rowling received numerous letters from parents and children begging her to spare their favorite character’s life. But she was determined to stay true to her outline and not be influenced by her fans. In her last book, of course, many popular characters died.
After watching the Farrell movie, I started thinking about the people I’d killed off in the three books I’ve written. I’ve even killed off a protagonist’s best friend. In fact, I’d killed two characters in each book, for a total of six. These are mysteries, after all, so the number is about right. But as I’m continuing in my series, I sometimes think there are one or two that I’d like to bring back from the dead in a sort of soap operatic move.
It’s not that I feel sorry for these characters, who were created solely to die, but that I felt a few of them would have been really useful players in later books. They were fun, interesting, or unusual. And I can’t exactly make another character just like them because that might be too obvious.
Have you ever killed someone off in your books and regretted it later? Have you taken some of the dead characters’ traits and recycled them in other books?