Someone Must Die

Song of the Day: Ten Ton Brick by Hurt

I’m emotional. More so than my half-crazed normal daily allotment.

There I was, minding my own business doing my damnedest to meet a NaNo word count for the day when the unthinkable happened. A sudden realization side-swiped me. I was going to have to kill one of my characters. Not just any run-of-the-mill extra in the cast. Noooo…. Someone who is well-liked by both the characters in the book as well as readers of my Romancing the Pirate series. Someone I like.

Keep in mind, I don’t write thrillers, horror, or suspense. I write high seas adventure and romance. People die, especially the bad guys. But not someone who is in my core group of characters. The realization hit so hard, I was knocked for a loop. It couldn’t be! It mustn’t be! What am I going to do? How can I let this happen?

I began floundering for a way out. What if someone else died instead of Well-Liked Character? Yeeessss…*kneads hands in maniacal way* Or maybe I could just maim him. Or… what if…what if…what if I just rewrite the entire scene to save Well-Liked Character.

I was grasping for straws and did what any desperate author does when faced with such a cataclysmic emotional derailment. No, I didn’t hit the bottle. I hit Facebook. I asked the masses for sage advice, aka wild-ass opinions. Should I kill my lovable fellow or pick some hapless bystander to take to fall? I probably should have hit the bottle instead. Rum is good at any time of day.

The response were all over the place. But I was thrilled with how many people weighed in. Some were silly. Others, brutal. Many of my author friends chimed in with their thoughts, so graciously pointing out the tight rope I walked. That precarious dilemma of either upsetting loyal readers or missing the emotional impact of the scene.

Secondary characters have value. They are imperative to the hero and heroine’s journey, whether as antagonists or protagonists.  Secondary Characters add dimension and complexity to the story.  Well-liked secondary characters are like a cozy blanket, familiar and welcome.  Readers don’t want to be sucker-punched losing someone they’ve grown fond of who could go on to bigger and better things. And Well-Liked Character does have future plans.

I remember a book I read where a secondary character died an avoidable death near the end of the story. I remember feeling so betrayed.

But on the flip-side, why should anyone care if a nameless/faceless stand-in gets whacked? Would their death give the same degree of reaction or consequence as losing a friend? Of course not.

Needless to say, as I read the comments both for and against sending Well-Liked Character to his maker, it became clear what I had to do. Flip a coin. Okay, not really.

I sucked it up and put myself back there, back deep into the scene. The critical moment had come. I removed myself, my wants, my emotions, and watched the inevitable unfold as a spectator. Well-Liked Character must die. I didn’t want him to, but there was no other way. It had to be. His death will escalate the stakes for the survivors. The impact will be greater. He will be a martyr for the story.

He’s not the first character I’ve killed—I’ve killed many. Oh yes, this author has a dark side. But Well-Liked Character is the first one that I will mourn.

Have you ever mourned for a character, either one you read or written? If so, who? Share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

21 Responses to Someone Must Die

  1. Long ago, I was working on what I envisioned as the SHOGUN of police novels. The lead was a good guy, but his partner was better. The time came when I realized the psycho had to kill the partner.

    It was NOT a good day.

    You have my sympathies, Jenn! As an author, you have to do what is right for the story, what resonates the most with the reader. (But it *better* not be Henri…:))


  2. jbrayweber says:

    Nope, it’s not easy losing a friend, is it, Will?
    But, for the sake of the story, it must be done. *sniff*
    As for who the Well-Liked Character is, I’m not divulging. You’ll just have to wait and see.


  3. johngraceson says:

    Yes. He must die. It’s uncontrived and, in fact, good story telling if the reader is touched with a lingering emotion long after they set the book aside.

    But I think this climatic end stages a powerful sequel for this story. There’s so much mystery/superstition with the sea not to exploit a paranormal visit by a restless soul.
    Say, a female captain wrestles with sensual dreams that rouse her in the mid of night only to discover that that musky yet powerful presence becomes more real to her with each waking day as a common enemy…


  4. jbrayweber says:

    Ooohh…John! What a great premise to a story. I may just steal that from you. 😉

    You’re right, of course. Killing off the character is uncontrived. But this happens in the middle of the book. And because I’m a pantser, I have no idea what the repercussions will be. But I can imagine some heads are going to roll.


  5. Linda Pennell says:

    Several years ago, I killed off a main character in order to maintain historical accuracy. I still cry when I go back and read the final chapters of his book. The book needs rewriting before it is sent out into the world and I may rewrite the end, but that would change the entire premise and theme of the story. Yikes! Maybe it will remain a book just for me and a few friends since even in commercial fiction readers like happy endings…. unless you are Nicholas Sparks, of course!


  6. jbrayweber says:

    When the author cries, Linda, then I believe the author has achieved the impact of the scene, the character, the overall emotional investment necessary to make the reader react. If the story is close to your heart, then you should polish it, and shop it. Happy ending or not.

    Now, if said crying author is a wuss, that’s a different story. HA!


  7. elizaknight says:

    Sliding a mug o’ rum your way. I know it was a tough decision to make. And I think you put it out to the masses because you knew subconsciously what you had to do. I’ve killed many side characters before too. Last year I was working on a historical fiction novel wheremy hHermione actually dies. Its a true story and I couldn’t change it even though I wanted to. It was super hard to write. So I’m there with ya! Luckily you have your other characters to help you cope. Hugs!


  8. jbrayweber says:

    Hermione dies???? I must have missed that part of Harry Potter. LMAO!

    I’m not looking forward to seeing Well-Liked Character go. And once I start actually writing the scene, I’m going to call you for emotional support.

    Thanks for the rum!


  9. elizaknight says:

    Omg heroine…. not Hermione I hate auto correct!!!


  10. Great post, Jenn!! As an author, I feel your pain and know your struggle. As a reader and fan of your books, I’m mortified! I already have an idea of who it will be and I must say, I’m gonna be depressed the rest of the day…..

    Okay, maybe for a few minutes. LOL Talk about a great way to up the stakes and get readers to sit on pins and needles as they await this next book! 🙂


  11. jbrayweber says:

    Nope, Melissa. It’s not who you think it is…whoever that may be. 😉


  12. Ruth says:

    That’s the trick isn’t. To make the reader feel more, react more- if you don’t want to kill off the character and you feel the emotional tug at the loss- think what you are imparting to the reader. Sure there are those who say- but the character could have his/her own story- but that is not really what one needs to consider- it is the emotional pull of the story and yes the reader may throw the book at the wall, they may rant and rave- but in the end they will pick up the book and read again, knowing that in the end, the character died for the better good. If you can impact a reader’s heart and mind you are ahead of the game, they will return to read you again and again. We all want the readers to feel the characters and their troubles, want to help them- yell at them and yes mourn with them, and if they get angry because a character dies- then the writer has succeeded in transporting them into a different world.
    (Yes, I have thrown a book or two, ranted and even emailed an author when they made me cry in one of their stories, I still haven’t forgiven them totally, but I will and have read them again)


  13. jbrayweber says:

    Gee…no pressure, Ruth.
    True, all true what you’ve said, and great advice of all authors. The one author I mentioned in the post who killed off a character at the end of the book, though I felt betrayed, I love her. I recognize what and why she allowed the death to happen. And I will continue to read her books.


  14. jdfaver says:

    Yes! I killed off Felix in ON ICE and mourned him as well. It was like killing Yoda. But Felix was both hunky and wise so it had the effect of sawing off a limb. But if you must, you must.


  15. jbrayweber says:

    Die, Yoda does not. LOL!
    There should be a support group for us, JD.


  16. So far, I haven’t had to kill off anyone but a bad guy. I’m not looking forward to doing what you had to.


  17. jbrayweber says:

    I’ve killed bad guys aplenty. I’ve even killed an important secondary character off, as well. But this is the first time I’ve cared. Yup…it’s tough, Ella.


  18. Sarah Andre says:

    My sympathies, Jenn. My thoughts and prayers are with you during this diificult time and I know the loss will be felt for a long time.


  19. jbrayweber says:

    Many thanks, Sarah. Could you pass the tissues, please? LOL


  20. Suzan Harden says:

    And this is why I write urban fantasy. Even if I kill off someone, I can bring them back later in the series.


  21. jbrayweber says:

    LOL! That is so true, Suzan. Are you suggesting that I bring Well-Liked Character back as a Zombie pirate? Hmmm…*taps finger to lips and seriously contemplates idea*


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