How to Decide Who Dies

I think one of my favorite Twitter exchanges is this:

JKRowling: It’s the 16th anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts.  I’m having a moment’s silence over my keyboard.  I hated killing some of those people.

George R.R. Martin: Oh my sweet summer child.

The reason I find this exchange so compelling is because it provides a dichotomy between types of authors: Those who literally cry over their characters’ deaths and those that seem to take almost a perverse pleasure in it.

I, unfortunately, fall into the former category. In the first few drafts of The Auctor Trilogy, Adelaide’s Mom doesn’t die.  So by the time I realized that I needed to kill her off immediately instead of later on, I was quite attached to her as a character.  I literally cried the entire time I was writing the scene of her in the morgue and can’t quite read the entire scene without getting choked up, 40 drafts later.

This is the reason that I refuse to name any of the characters after people that I know. There are a lot of authors that choose to name their characters after family members or friends.  However, since I know there is at least a 25% chance that any given character will be killed off during the course of the series, I go out of my way to choose names that I have no association with in order to make the ordeal any worse than it already is.

Of course, there will be many more deaths to come, as Constance Auctor’s choice in 1692 condemns Addie to a life of sacrifice. Some of the people’s deaths are predetermined, but some are up in the air because I can’t quite bring myself to mentally write the scenes where I kill off characters that I’ve spent hundreds of hours developing into complex or at least likeable people in my head and on paper.

The decision to kill off a character always involves a lot of complex emotions and motivations. Sometimes it is necessary to remove a character because they’ve become an unnecessary complexity and there isn’t any other way to explain their exit.  Sometimes it is because the death will compel a certain response from another character that will create either a conflict or a response.

The one thing that I am completely certain about: I will cry when I type out each of their deaths.

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