Monday, September 14, 2009

Murdering Our Characters

murder_scene 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?

11 comments:

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I call "Stranger Than Fiction" the mystery writer's nightmare. Don't get me wrong, I love the movie, but it does tend to give me pause. I shudder to think how many people I've bumped off between the games and the murder nights I used to write - and now there's my book. Usually I have made the victim so nasty that there isn't any guilt, but the book is a completely other story.

When I saw what the subject of this post was I laughed. I had just re-watched "Stranger Than Fiction" the other night and was going to write about the same thing! Now I have to think up another subject...

Elspeth

Paul Lamb said...

What are the chances you could set some of your newer novels in a time that precedes the death of the characters you want to use again? Are your stories in a chronological series?

Terry Odell said...

We watched Stranger than Fiction on Netflix, and we have this "give it 15 minutes" rule for when one of us doesn't think we'll like the other one's choice. Hubby really enjoyed that one, to his surprise, although there was a line in that movie that was almost verbatim for something I used in one of my (already published) short stories.

So far, I haven't killed off anyone I've wanted to resurrect, although since I write romantic suspense, there are times I wish I hadn't created married secondary characters because I would have liked to put them front and center in another book.

Lisa Bork said...

I haven't seen that movie. It does sound intriguing. So far I've only killed off one character, and I don't see him coming back.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I haven't seen that movie but now I want to. I haven't killed off a character yet, but I'm wondering if you can bring them back by using an identical twin separated at birth scenario.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I really enjoyed Stranger Than Fiction, especially as a mystery author. A couple of times now I've spared certain characters earmarked for death because partway through the book I've realized I might want to bring them back. In my 6th Odelia Grey book, which I'm working on right now, one of those 2nd chance characters is making an appearance.

I know one author who did kill off his main character after a few books because he wanted to emphasize another main character in future books. He regretted it, and is now working on a prequel.

G.M. Malliet said...

I read an interview with JK Rowling where she talked about the death of her characters, and how she wasn't going to soften reality for her young audience. People do die and that's a fact. I think the younger you are, actually, the more you are accepting of that fact.

Alan Orloff said...

You could go the DALLAS route. Have Myrtle Clover step out of the shower, "Hey, it was all just a dream."

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Elspeth--Please write on it! I'd love to hear your perspective on the movie.

Paul--Interesting thought! Well, so far they're chronological, but it would be cool to shake that up sometime. Hmmmm...

Terry--A 15 minute rule is a great idea. And marrying secondary characters sounds just like murdering them! I guess we have to be careful who we marry and bump off.

Lisa--He's REAL dead, then!

Jane--It's definitely a writer's movie. And...maybe an evil twin? I like the idea.

Sue Ann--Wow! Killing off a main character is really writing yourself into a corner. But Conan Doyle brought Sherlock back, so I guess it's possible. And if he did it in a prequel, that really must have worked well. I think sending a protagonist on a sabbatical would be a better idea.

GM--I think I read that interview, too. I was glad my son wasn't too grief-stricken at the end of the Potter series....he really loved all the characters.

Alan--I love it! Crazy Bobby Ewing and his wild dreams...

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Book One didn’t have the option to kill of any characters. Book Two, I do kill off some folks, but they’re minor characters. I never really thought about this, but it’s a good point. I get really fond of my characters…so, killing them off would be hard. What a wimpy writer I am. Sheesh.

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Galen--Murder can be fun and addicting! :)

Elizabeth