Last Week’s WW – Description
There’s something disturbingly gratifying about killing off a character. Whenever I do it, I get this sense of sad and satisfaction. Strange as it may sound, I think that it’s evidence that I did a good job crafting the character.
The end of a book is never really the end of a story. It’s just the end of the story that I chose to tell. But the characters live on. Unless, that is, you kill them. Once they are dead, their story is concluded. (Maybe not applicable if you’re writing something fantasy where the death is the start of the protagonist story. But, for argument’s sake, let’s say dead is dead for now.) You’ve told their story to completion. You no longer have to wonder what happened to them or if they’re okay. They’re not. They’re dead.
Of course, if you don’t write a convincing character, then who’s going to care that you killed them?
In order to kill a character, they must first have lived.
I’m not exactly sure how I go about inventing a character. My characters are like Athena, erupting from my skull fully formed. But I can isolate some things that I think make them fully functioning characters.
What does your character look like? Odds are, you have some idea. You see them in your head. Likely, they fit some demographic that is right for the story. You know their sex, probably their ethnicity, maybe even are getting an idea of their height and weight. The more details that you know, the more realistic they’ll seem. How old are they? Does your character have a big nose? What about that scar across his chest? Or the mole on her ear? Keep going. The better you can see them, the better you can describe them.
Whether I tell it or not, I know the background of my characters. How did that astronaut become a world-famous clown? Deeper than that. Why did he want to be a clown? What in his past led him to where he is now? How’d he lose that finger? What were his parents like? How’d he get into space school? Was it easy for him, or super hard? Doesn’t matter that he’s forty-five now and is a clown. You have to know where he came from to know where he’s going.
Alright, so you know where he’s been. Now you have to know what he would do in any theoretical situation. If your astro-clown were to rob that liquor store, what would he do it with? Would he threaten the clerk or be reassuring that it’ll all be okay as long as he does what he’s told? What if he were to finally visit his daughter that he had from that one night stand? Would he be a good dad? Would he chicken out and not go? What if he ate that taco? If you know what he would do, then what he does do will be all the more convincing.
So, you know you’re character inside and out. That makes this step easier. The clownonaut should sound like him. Not like the writer. Not like the other characters in the story. He has to sound like him and always sound like him. He must also think like him. And every action he takes must be logical and organic to what we already know about him. He can’t save that baby from a runaway train one minute, and tie it to the tracks the next. Not without some heavy explanation. Characters can change, but they must do it slowly, with internal and external conflict that causes it to happen.
Your character is a unique snowflake. But he’s still a person. Which means that he has to do, at least some, logical person things, or have people feelings. People want to be able to sympathize with a character. They want to see a little of themselves in them.
Once you know your characters, you can love your characters. You can love to hate your characters. You can make other people love and love/hate your characters.
Now that you know and love your character, understand how they think and you can relate to them, and you can see them clearly in your mind, now you can kill them.
It’ll be bittersweet. But darn it, it feels so good.