★ Killing My (Fictional) Babies

Wait! Let me explain! By babies, of course, I mean fictional character that I have created and invested in emotionally. And by killing, I mean... well, killing. Yes, I've reached the point in my narrative where I have begun to off my main characters. Not all of them, of course. There's still enough story to tell to justify keeping some of them around (for now... muahaha...). But I have begun to gradually eliminate certain characters in order to advance the plot and the emotional arcs of more important characters.

So far I've killed two, one of whom was critically important to the plot and the other of whom was a semi-major supporting character. I have mixed feelings about this. The first of the two was created for the purpose of being killed. I knew from the moment that I gave him a name that by the end of the story he would be dead. As he developed, though, I found it more difficult to pull the trigger, so to speak. Although I had conceived of him as a simple romantic rival to one of my protagonists, he ended up being tremendously sympathetic. I liked this character as I was writing him. I liked him so much that I tried to think of ways to save him. But when push came to shove, he needed to die. And because of the way that he developed, and because of the way that I chose to kill him, his death had a significantly greater impact on my other characters than I thought it would. The strength of this character made the story stronger, and I didn't lose that by sacrificing him.

The other character went somewhat in the opposite direction. When I started the story, I intended for him to have a much larger role, but over time he slowly faded to the background until he simply became expendable. I didn't intend to kill him, but when I realized that I could tie his demise into some important character growth, it became a no-brainer. He had to die, and I have no regrets, especially knowing where his death will allow other characters to go as I race toward the climax.

The process of killing a character is interesting. You create these souls from scratch and build them into recognizable entities. If you do your job right, they are distinct from one another and have their own lives within your tale. Making the decision to end those lives is not easy, especially when you think about how their survival would affect the story that you're crafting. And if you're going to eliminate them, you better get everything out of them you can before you do. I've mentioned before my reluctance to plan my full stories out ahead of time, but the major exception that I do make is for character deaths. Usually, I know when I create a character if he or she will survive or die. It helps structure not just the plot as a whole, but also their individual arcs and the arcs of those around them. This is sometimes referred to as "The Joss Whedon Effect."

I can only think of one definite example of saving a character that I created with the intention of killing him. That character was the masked Nazi supervillain Baron Heinrich Von Devious from my Nazi Hunters radio serial. At various points in time, I had Devious being stabbed with a rapier, crushed by falling debris, suffocated by the vacuum of space, and burned alive in a volcano. And every time I was ready to do away with him, I just had to come up with a way of saving him from his fate. He was too wonderful a character for me to kill, and every time I brought him back, it made the story better. But when I think about why I was able to save him, it's very simple: the stories being told and the characters at the center of them would not have gained a tremendous amount from his death. It would have been an unnecessary sacrifice, made solely because he was a villain and convention dictated that he must meet his maker at some point. In that instance, I am glad that I ignored convention.

But Devious is the exception rather than the rule, and some characters need to die that others may flourish. I've got a few more left to kill before the end of my story, and I think I'm ready to do it.