Monday, January 15, 2007

Giving up the Ghost--How do you decide who to kill?

So, I'm at the finale of my YA novel, and someone has to die--besides the bad guy. I have to kill off at least one of my good guys, and it's very tough. I'm not a huge proponent of killing off characters in a YA, but this is one of those cases that really calls for it. So, is it copping out to choose a background character rather than one of the more prominent characters? How do YOU choose? At this point, I think I've decided to take a bad-girl-turned-good to the grave. She will be doing something noble, and a deeper revelation into her character may also be in store. But what is the line between cliche or maudlin and dramatically effective?


  1. I followed you here from Adrienne's blog. We have much in common. Former teachers, horse back riding,
    And re: the post.
    I subscribe to the John Irving school of writing. If you do not kill at least one memorable character per book then you have not done your job!

  2. Hey Ghostgirl,

    I have been trying to decide myself about this same thing. Well, sort of the same. I'm not gonna kill off my MC, but maybe one of the antagonists. I feel the same way. I think the story calls for it in the situation she's in. All I can say is to go with your instinct. What is your gut saying? Go with it!

    Loved getting your email. We have a lot in common. I love all things Irish! I lived in Lancaster, PA for four years. (That's the location of my YA novel.) Great job with the blog! CJ

  3. I don't think deaths should be chosen randomly. I think they need to serve the story. Feeling compelled to kill a character because you "need" to doesn't do that.

    The main thing to remember is that killing off a big character has repercussions. In you mind, kill off your big characters one by one and imagine how everyone else reacts. If you don't play out these reactions, you're cheating your readers.

    Is there a character whose death would propel another character to action in a way they might not otherwise have gone? Will a certain death be in line with any themes you've developed along the way?

    If you're a Buffy fan, think about how the deaths of certain characters affected those who remained. (If you're not a Buffy fan, start watching. You can learn A LOT of narrative structure from that show and how the killing of prominent/secondary characters touch the lives of everyone else and how that MUST be dealt with.)

    Just some thoughts.

  4. Wow! You guys are great! Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. Excellent advice. And Brian, I love Josh Whedon. I think he's brilliant. A surpreme story-teller.

    I am not being flippant or random about death. This is an important issue in the narrative, and I do think a heavy consequence is necessary here, to really drive home the weight of the story. I will no kill the mc, but he, as well as the rest of this community, will be affected dramatically by this death. I think it will be the bad-girl-turned-good for a number of reasons. The mc isn't perfect, and he has made snap judgments about her as much as she has about him. She has already made steps to change her approach and we are learning the reasons behind her original "snarkiness". It's not quite as trite as "don't judge a book by its cover" but it does have to do with the complexity of life and sum of one's experiences and the depth of one's motivations.

    Your advice is wonderful, and it will help me frame this scene by really thinking through all the angles and concequences.

    Thanks everyone!

  5. Why kill? Why not just wound or maim...
    Since I don't know the story I really can't help you. I kill off characters all the time, my YA book Horse Passages starts with a death. But I never like doing it. I usually find tears dripping on my keyboard when I have to 'do someone in'.
    It's easy to get maudlin, and beware bathos, lol.

  6. YOU ROCK MAMA!!!!!!! Oh man your...uhhh...little...animation is soooooooo FUNNY!!!!!!!! Hah hah MPWA! LOVE YA!!!


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