KONFESSION: I have plans to kill people. Uh, characters, that is.
I have known from the inception of the Phantom Island series who would be dead by the end of four books… and what the end choices for each character will look like. But I have to admit that the further into the series I write, the closer I get to making that a reality, and the harder it becomes. I do not take life and death lightly – not in the real world and not in my writing. So it’s something I am wrestling with quite a bit lately.
I think every writer would say that they love their characters as if they were real people. (And, well, they kind of are – at least in our minds.) The relationship between writer and character is almost like that of God and His creation. (PLEASE don’t think I’m taking my comparison to God too seriously – I mean that with reverence!) But those characters’ lives are in my hands. I love them. I want to protect them. They make me laugh and cry. They frustrate me to no end at times. I know that I have to challenge my characters. Sometimes I have to take them down difficult paths – even when it’s painful – because I know it’s what’s best for them. I know that they will experience growth and become better people on the other side of their pain.
But, gosh, it’s hard to make them suffer… because when they suffer, so do I.
A couple of years ago, I was reading a very popular book (not going to say which) that had me all tied up in knots. About 2/3 of the way through the book, I put it down and told my husband I needed a break. At the time, I thought I was picking up on some major foreshadows for the ending that I needed to come to terms with before finishing it. When I finally did pick the book back up (after a couple of weeks), I read to the end… and everything I thought the author had prepared me for DID NOT HAPPEN.
But my reaction to that surprised me… because, while I was glad that the bad things I was expecting had been wrong, I was also a little disappointed. I mean, it would have taken a huge amount of courage for the author to do what I thought he/she would do… and I think I felt like the ending was a copout.
Would I have been devastated if my predictions came true? Yes! Would I have thrown the book across the room if I had been right? Yes!
But maybe… just maybe I want to read books that make me throw them across the room in extreme emotion. (Oh, by the way, thank you, Suzanne Collins, for making me do that at the end of Catching Fire…) Maybe, as a reader, I am okay when the author makes tough choices in an effort to keep the story honest and true.
DON’T GET ME WRONG! I love-love-love happy endings – but only when they’re SATISFYING endings… only when they’re the RIGHT ending for that story. (This is also why I tend to avoid unhappy or depressing books… I know they are true-to-life and, well, I just don’t want too much reality in my reading at times.)
I just hope that I have the courage to go through with what I feel should happen in my own series… it was easy to KNOW what SHOULD happen when I plotted out the four books. But here I am over halfway through the second, and I am getting jittery about my choices – I keep wondering if there is some way out of it…
Remember when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was about to release and J.K. Rowling revealed that a major character would die in it (later discovered to be Sirius Black)? I remember her saying that the day she wrote that scene, she went to her husband and cried. “I did it. I killed him.”
What courage that must have taken… what heartache it must have caused her. I hope (and loathe) to experience that someday – but only when it is the RIGHT thing to do.