I have to confess, I lack courage.
One of the things I want more than anything else is to creep someone out with my writing. To be able to do that consistently, actually. Not necessarily gross someone out – I’m not talking about gore here. I’m talking about someone closing the book and being either afraid, or uneasy, because of what I wrote.
But what about something that makes me uneasy? Could I write that?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this for a time, and I don’t know if I can do it.
Do I have the courage to write something that scares me? Or that is in my scope of fear? Could I write something with the risk of changing the entire landscape of not just a single book, but all subsequent books, should there be any?
I’ve come to that crossroad with my one and only series.
A few months ago, I found a scene involving the three characters from my series running around in my skull. When I looked at it, I found it involved one of the three characters dying. It was sort of horrible, and bothered me a bit. I sat on it, and didn’t say anything, and didn’t write the scene, even though it came to me in vivid, sharp detail.
Later, I mentioned it and described it to my wife. She’s also my loving and constant First Reader, and she has something of an emotional bond with these characters. After I finished she stayed quiet, and stared into space for a bit. I finally asked what she thought, and she told me not to write it. Or at least, not to take the series there.
She told me to write the scene but leave it out of any and all stories. First, this would have fit perfectly in the last book I wrote. But it didn’t go in, and I’m not ready for that level of revision. It could go into the next major story in the series, too, but I won’t know how or where until I write that next story.
But I’m afraid to create the scene and put in any story. My wife and I agreed that, when I drop that death scene anywhere in the series, the whole thing is probably gonna die.
Because it’s one of the major characters that dies. By all accounts, the most popular character.
My wife believes fans of the series – there are only one or two at the moment – might be upset. They might even abandon the rest of the series, if there is any more of it.
That death scene would change the dynamic of not just that book, but all the series books and stories that follow. Anything I might do with the characters will have to be different, forever, irrevocably. I’ll have slammed and nailed some doors shut, never to be opened again. Never able to be opened again.
Darker stuff lies down that road. No more humor, at least for one of the characters. No more playful banter between them. All gone. And the ragged, torn wound in the wake of this one moment will open new areas in the characters. In their personalities, in their make-up. Things they didn’t or wouldn’t have known existed in them will come to the surface.
Then again, readers don’t always abandon a series because the author kills off a major character. Just look at George R. R. Martin as a shining example, and the popularity of Game of Thrones in both print and on the air. After the major extinction event of a few seasons back, it’s just as popular as ever.
But doing this to characters I’ve created, around whom I’ve spun worlds, yarns, and for whom I’ve created personalities, and desires, and needs, and relationships…to kill them, even for the sake of the story, even for the sake of the reader’s experience, takes something I’m not sure I have.
How about you all as readers? When a beloved character is written out of a series you’re following, does that kill the whole thing? or do you go on with it, trusting the author to deliver an experience you’ll enjoy and remember?