The delicate business of killing characters

The Shivering WoodI will confess that I don’t really care for killing characters. It’s tricky business, especially when it comes to writing for children. After all, you’re inevitably killing someone’s favourite character. And kids tend to let you know about these things—and they don’t care if they’re kind about it!

But for me the bigger issue is the potential problem it creates for the author. It’s not just how you do the deed. I always find myself pondering the following points.

First, is this really the most interesting situation that can happen in the story? Is there a more interesting problem to throw at a character? Throughout the Kendra Kandlestar series, I’ve found better fodder in transformation, separation, or even injury. These types of situations propel the adventure forward and often leave me with more difficulties as a writer. But then again, if I ever find myself thinking, Oh, I shouldn’t do that. It will be hard to write . . . well, then I know I have to do it.

Secondly, what if I need that character again? Personally, I’m loathe to create a character that just seems a carbon copy of another. It’s why I’ve had certain characters (such as Pugglemud) that keep turning up in each book.

Which sort of leads me to my third point. Sometimes I just think characters have a will to survive, as if they’ve loitering inside my coconut, lobbying for their continued existence. I try arguing with them sometimes—but they’re like my students. They don’t always obey. And so they live on.

But why am I ruminating on this subject today? Well, despite all I’ve said above, I just wrote the death scene for a major character in my series. I’m nearing the end of the book, at the end of the series, and it seems to me this particular character has reached the end of its natural arc. To be honest, this death happened earlier than I expected. I thought it was a chapter or two away, but then . . . well, out came the scene. And it happened. Even I was surprised.

Now, before everyone starts speculating on who this character is, I want to point out that this book has a long way to go before reaching its final incarnation.Plot lines shift, ideas change, and editors stick their noses in here and there, rooting around the chapters like detectives searching for clues. So who knows? Maybe this particular character will be resurrected before all is said and done. For now, I’ve had to bid adieu to him. (Or her. I’m really not interesting in giving any hints!)

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