Death and Mayhem: How To Kill Off a Character

The Background of a Murder

So. As you know, my dear inklings, I am delightedly immersed in edits on the sequel to Rethana’s Surrender, my first epic fantasy novel.

If you recall, R’s S and its sequel began life as one whole book. But in the interest of maintaining a reasonable publishing process, I elected to split the book in half.

This led to a fairly cramazing cliffhanger ending for R’s S, if I dare say so myself. ; )

Anyway, now that I’m working with great vigor* on the sequel, I’m discovering several discoveries. One of these is that I used to use a lot of words.

Okay, so that’s not really a discovery. I already knew that. I think we all already knew that.

The Because of a Murder

But no, one of the genuine discoveries is that I wrote into the story several large gaps that need filling. At this point, I’m looking at two to four chapters of new material.

On one hand, this is frustrating because it negates my efforts not to let this book grow into a MEFaN**. But ah well, I guess you can’t win ’em all. Mostly, I’m enjoying the generation of new material. So all is well on that particular home front.

The other discovery that initially dismayed but then thrilled me is that I’ve got several subplots that could use tidying and then tying up. And in one of these subplots, I get to kill off an unlikeable character.

Now, when I say “unlikeable,” I mean that he does not have an endearing personality at all. I like him because he’s a clear, well-defined character to me. Even villains are likeable if they’re written well. And from readers’ reactions to him, it seems I’ve done a pretty good job delineating him.

In the sequel to R’s S, I am going to kill him.

Because he’s a “spineless little fraction of a man” (a beloved quote from the beloved movie Far and Away).

And, so as to sort-of avoid spoilers, that’s all I’m going to share concerning his identity. I’m a tease like that.

The Body Anatomy of a Murder

(Strikethroughs are the enemy of alliteration.)

So, how does one go about killing off an unlikeable (subplot) character?

I have a few thoughts.

1. Prior to the murder, establish him as a strong (subplot) character.

One way or another, you’ve gotta write this guy so that your readers have already had emotional reactions to him. If he’s likeable, his death must have a significant, negative impact on your main character. (This presupposes that you’ve done your job in making your readers care deeply about your MC.) If he’s not likeable, his death must have a significant, positive impact on your MC.

If your readers don’t already know that this guy is significant to your MC, then…

A. …there’s no point in killing off the character, and…

B. …there’s no point in that character’s existence in the first place, so you might as well just cut him from the story altogether.

TAKEAWAY:
If you want to kill him off, make sure he’s significant. If he is, murder away. If he isn’t, either erase him from existence or up your ante.

2. Select the right point in your story for this murder.

This one might be tricky, because the “right point” will vary from one story to the next. For me, the “right point” is also a turning point for Rethana, my MC. And hooooo boy, am I taking a risk here in trying to explain this without spoilers!

In the R’s S sequel, the death of Unlikeable Character catapults Rethana into action in a situation in which she feels completely helpless and isolated. She hasn’t exactly been wallowing, but she’s been pretty much frozen with fear. Unlikeable Character’s death provides the catalyst that thaws her out and gets her moving again — not because the death horrifies her, but because the death is proof that her real enemies mean the most serious business.

And if you keep in mind that one of Rethana’s main motivations is protecting her sister Chel, you’ll know that this “serious business” could impact Chel in a particularly dire way.

And that’s all I have to say about that. ; )

TAKEAWAY:
Your murder should so significantly impact your MC that it causes MC to react in a powerful way. If she’s stationary, it should force her into action. If she’s mobile, it should force her into more intensive action. And you, writer, must keep in mind that the action she chooses might not be the smartest one.

(In fact, it probably shouldn’t be the smartest one. There’s nothing more readable than a main character who doesn’t make wise choices until the end. And maybe not even then!)

3. Pick the right murder weapon.

No, I’m not talking about candlestick vs. rope vs. revolver (although the actual weapon might play a role, depending on the story circumstances). By “weapon,” I mean the following question:

Just how is Unlikeable Character going to perish?

Is the death gruesome? Is it peaceful? Is it a murder, a mercy killing, an accident, an execution?

By whose hand does this take place? Another side character’s? The MC’s? Or is it by Unlikeable Character’s own hand?

Will Unlikeable Character die carelessly? Awkwardly? Cowardlyly? Will his dishonorable death confirm everything your MC has always thought about him?

Or will he die gracefully? Honorably? Will he redeem himself in the end, thereby causing MC all sorts of moral discomfort?

TAKEAWAY:
Before you, writer, commit murder against your character (Likeable or Unlikeable), you must decide upon the manner of his death and figure out the emotional impact of his death on your MC.

The Brief of a Murder

Who?

Where/When?

How?

Answer these questions both for yourself and for your readers, and your hands will be well-soaked in the blood of your (subplot) character — and, like Lady Macbeth, you’re not likely to get any of it off. Congratulations!

______

* vigor = whatever energy and focus are left me beyond the task of putting together a human inside my abdomen

** MEFaN = Monster Epic Fantasy Novel (i.e. doorstop)

P.S. I wrote most of this blogpost on my cell phone in a waiting room. Living in the future is pretty fracking cool.

P.P.S. On my phone, autocorrect wanted to change “myself” to “musket,” as in: “if I dare say so musket.” In Rethana’s universe, muskets would be quite the anachronism. Unless Kryeis were the one hauling them around…hmmm….

Decoding Pregnancy: 5 Secrets Revealed

Hidey-ho, O Faithful Readerly Ones!

In the land of Court Can Write, we have now reached Week 22 of this thing they call Preg Nancy. I don’t know why or how Nancy gained such predominance in the naming of this condition, but there she is and there’s naught I can do about it. We carry on*.

Things have been quiet around the blog lately because what little spare energy I’ve got, I’ve been pouring into painting the cover art for Aaron Pogue’s The Dragonprince’s Heir, as well as finalizing my Monster Epic Fantasy Novel, aka Legend’s Artisans: Schism (working title). I remind me that the so-called MEFaN needs its own full, explanatory post not long hence, since it’s coming out in just a month. BANGERANG for sure — but also, OY VEY.

For now, though, I’ll share with you some recent revelations I’ve had concerning this Preg Nancy thing. I’ve concluded that humanity speaks in code about this, and one doesn’t get to decipher said code until one enters the state of being with child.

Some of these decipherings have come as a great surprise to me, and I wish someone had let me in on the secrets long ago. As I enjoy doing nice, informative things for you, my sweet inklings, I’ve decided to reveal five of the secrets to you, that you might be better prepared for your own future or at least come to a deeper understanding of certain apparently crazy women of your acquaintance (i.e. the pregnant ones). So…

Decoding Pregnancy: 5 Secrets Revealed

1. Glowing Skin
Oh, how the second trimester hormones are supposed to make a woman’s skin extra soft with that dewy glow of fertile, robust youth! A few people — a few, mind you — have said something to me in passing about how I’m “glowing.” But when I look in the mirror, I see a different picture. “Glowing skin,” my dear readers, is code for “acne.” It’s not terrible at this point, but it’s definitely more than the occasional pre-pregnancy zit. Ah, joy.

2. Ultrasound
My first ultrasound took place during Week 5 — quite early, because I was having complications and my doc just wanted to see what was going on. She showed me the screen and pointed to an amorphous blob and said, “Here’s the amniotic sac.” Then, she pointed at a teensy dot. “And that’s your baby.”

At Week 8, the ultrasound showed us a lighter amorphous blob within a darker amorphous blob. Light blob was baby, dark blob was amniotic fluid. This time, my doctor pointed out the “head” and the “rump” and two little protrusions she called “feet.” We nodded wisely. Other than that, the cool part was seeing and hearing the heart beat, which stunned the husband and made me burst into tears.

At Week 19, because I am 35 and therefore of “Advanced Maternal Age” (sheesh), we got to see the high-risk doctor for a 3-D ultrasound. By this time, Amorphous Blob had grown into Indentifiable Tiny Baby, and the 3-D ultrasound showed us an itty-bitty face with actual eyes, nose, lips, and chin.

In the non-3-D part of the ultrasound, the tech got a fabulous shot of my daughter facing the “camera.” Pardon my irreverence, but that shot just looks freaky — because most of what you see is the skull showing through. My child looked like a demonic Halloween mask**.

“Ultrasound” is code for: trust the doctor that what is growing inside you is actually human.

3. Kicking
I first felt movement on the first day of Week 16. At first, it felt like gas bubbles in places where I knew there couldn’t be gas bubbles. Within days, this progressed to little flutters like muscle spasms. On the morning of Week 19, Day 4, I looked down and saw my stomach twitch.

Feeling my baby move inside of me is the most cramazing experience in the entire universe.

It is also what I imagine it would feel like to have a baby alien of Ellen Ripley fame preparing to burst out of one’s abdomen.

4. Tiredness
“You’ll be tired during pregnancy.” = “You will feel like you’re climbing a mountain every day.”

“You’ll get your energy back during the second trimester.” = “We are pathological liars.”

5. Placenta
So, when we went in for the 3-D ultrasound, I asked the tech where inside my uterus the placenta is attached. She told me it’s right under my bellybutton.

And then she said, “It’s about the size and shape of a pancake.”

REVELATION.

In German, most commonly-used medical terms aren’t Latin-based the way they are in English. You don’t have tonsillitis, you have a “Mandelentzündung” — which, directly translated, means “almond inflammation. If you have sinusitis, you’ve got a “Nasennebenhöhlenlentzündung” — an “inflammation of the caves next to the nose.”

If you’re female, you don’t have a uterus. You have a “Gebärmutter,” which means “birthing mother” whether that organ ever births anything or not.

When you’re pregnant, what nourishes your baby is not a placenta.
What nourishes your baby is the “Mutterkuchen.”

That’s “mothercake” to you.

Yum.

* Pun intended? You bet your sweet patootie.

** Don’t be fooled by my cheeky demeanor. If I could, I would totally go in for an ultrasound every single day. Seeing my baby — her face, her arms, her legs, and her incredible little heart — is a joy that beggars description.

How My Bachelor’s in Writing Didn’t Prepare Me for Writerhood

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

~Henry Ford

In December 1999, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English/Writing and thought I knew everything I needed to know about writing books.

Why, yes — I am waiting for your laughter to subside.

Okay, okay, calm yourselves, please. What do you think this is, a late-night comedy club?

Sheesh.

😉

Idealist Writer Changes World — Details at 11

So. Here I am, 22 years old with all of three-and-a-half years of higher education under my belt. I’m off to former East Germany as soon as possible. I shall change the world one relationship at a time and write books while I do it. I am Tawanda, Queen of the Amazons. Hear me roar.

For my senior project, I’d completed a Monster Epic Fantasy Novel (aka MEFaN), which I’ve previously mentioned here. My profs approved it. Their praise wasn’t exactly glowing, but it was shiny, at least. I thought my novel was ready to shop to publishers.

Um. No.

If you click through, you’ll see that the MEFaN in question was a first draft. I’d heard my creative writing prof mention such hideous things as re-write and edit and multiple drafts

— but I was 22 and brilliant. What need I with multiple drafts?

*sigh*

Ow, My Aching Ego

I learned. I learned that I was good for a 22-year-old straight outta college. I learned that I was not as good as what editing, rewriting, and plain ol’ life experience could make me. I learned that my profs’ shiny-almost-glowing praise was for how far I’d come by then.

But good grades, I finally realized, were not the final measurement of my skills. I realized that my writing degree was my starting point. My writing degree prepared me to begin.

And I’ve spent the last 14 years doing the work.

But here’s what my degree did not prepare me for.

Money, Money, Money

As part of my general education in college, I was required to take an economics class. I ended up in a course called Free Enterprise System.

Sadly, this had nothing to do with liberated starships.

Sadly, I learned exactly two things in this course:

  1. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Booya.
  2. When one member of the project team doesn’t do his job, the economics prof doesn’t care that the rest of the team does theirs. Everybody gets penalized a letter grade because of the one lazy slob.
  3. Yay teamwork! I love teamwork!

Also sadly, I was not required to take any courses in personal finance (i.e. how-to-budget, etc.) or in finances for writers.

So, years later, when the husband and I got into serious trouble over self-employment taxes, my reaction was as follows:


 

 

 

 

 

 

Doing Homework

Let me be clear: I blame no one for this but myself.

I shoulda done my homework. After all, there is such a thing as thinking for oneself.

In the meantime, I’ve figured things out a little. I now understand things about withholding. I now understand that calculating my taxes myself is a rather dumb thing for me to do (especially when my info conflicts with that of the IRS). I now know to keep track of expenses like the ones listed in this article.

The business-sensible thing for me to do with this post would be to provide you with a list of such resources as that one. But I’m not writing this to be business-sensible.

I’m writing this to emphasize that even after getting our educations — whether that’s at the collegiate level or simply through life experience and trial-and-error — we writers still have to do our homework.

Yeah, we gotta research stuff for our writing. We read novels, articles, and papers. We drive to remote locations to get the feel and flavor of a place or to take pictures for cover art. We interview people. We visit museums. We sit in coffee shops, pondering and muttering to ourselves.

But we also have to research for our business.

It might be the most important thing I’ve learned about writing since graduation:

Writing is a business.

And the writer is CEO, VP, treasurer, secretary, and go-fer.

And this is every writer. Not just the self-published ones.

Writers, we must learn to think of ourselves this way.

If somebody had taught me this in college and forced me to sit down and learn the non-creative, non-artsy, non-inspiring, soul-sucking side of writing, it could’ve saved me a lot of trouble. And a lot of heartache.

So, do your homework, writers. Nobody’s gonna make you learn this stuff. You’ve gotta take responsibility (do as I say, not as I do) and do your research.

And for the love of all that’s good, true, and writerly in this world, keep track of your gas mileage.

__________________________

What financial education did you get along the way?

What’s been your experience with self-employment?

What’s been your experience thinking of yourself as a business — or not thinking of yourself that way?

If you’re more into the business side than the creative writing side, what one thing do you think writers need to be aware of?