Effulgent Corruption: The Home Stretch, emotional impact, death of charcters

on Tuesday, July 12, 2011
I've wanted to use the phrase "on the home stretch" for a while now with Effulgent Corruption, but could never justify it considering I'd always have more than one Part remaining.
Well, I'm on the home stretch. I have one Part left. It's outlined. I just have to write it.
I'm on the home stretch.

After outlining what will become Part 7, I realized how much I didn't want to write this finale. It has nothing to do with being unable, hating the story, or anything of that kind. The point is that things happen in the end that are irreversible, and after getting to know these characters over seven months (more, if you count plotting and the first false start) I am a bit hesitant to follow through. Who lives and dies (or is horribly maimed) at the end of Effulgent Corruption was decided WAY back during the book's initial planning (even before it had a title), but now that I'm finally up to that point it's hard to follow through with it.

I had a similar problem with the ending of Lacrymosa (even though that book wasn't nearly as well polished, it did take me a three year period to write), the ending of Harbinger, and the ending of the second part of Where Gods and Mortals Dance. 

Without going into too many spoilers: all the parts mentioned above have the deaths of main characters. I've always been forward in saying that nobody is ever safe, even viewpoint characters; it's been something I've been adamant on since I first started writing. I despise immortal viewpoint characters who seem to have immaculate luck and narrowly avoid death by just a hair every scene. Death is a staple of fantasy, so why are main/likeable characters exempt?

Because it's hard, that's why.

Part 6 also ends with a main character dying. For risk of spoilers, let's just say it is "one of my favorite characters in the novel." I literally had to emotionally detach myself from the scene entirely in order to write it. I went back for a quick re-read edit and actually skipped the part leading up to the death. I just couldn't re-read it, at least not then. I was so attached to the character and liked him/her so much that killing them was like a punch in the chest. I still haven't re-read the scene. And this was for a character I'd planned to die since the beginning!

As an author, we want deaths to have emotional weight. So we build up a character, make them endearing to a reader, force them to be very sympathetic, and then kill them.

The only problem is, as the author, I'm infinitely more intimate with a character than a reader. They've spent maybe a few hours with him/her, while I've spent months (sometimes years) entertaining them in my thoughts. Doing awful things to characters is my forte (which is also what discovery writers excel at), but even I have a threshold that can be crossed. George R. R. Martin can do awful things to people without batting an eyelid, but I think most of us are more like J.K. Rowling, who cried during several stages of writing the Harry Potter novels. It's hard to be mean, especially to people who are good and don't deserve it. There isn't always a happy ending, but there's a difference between being told about the unhappy ending and having to create it.

In truth, this whole post was sort of an extension of a comment I posted on Rose's blog, but the point still stands. I'm having troubles starting this "beginning of the end" because I know I'm going to have to do awful, unfixable things to my characters, and I feel bad about it.

But it was going to happen anyway, so I'm going to write today regardless.

I was also going to post about moral grayness in characters (and melodrama), but that'll have to wait for a future blog post because my brain is addled with Mountain Dew and work isn't helping with my mind mushiness. So just know that the end is coming, this book will finally be finished, and I'm going to kill every character you ever loved or do awful things to them (or both). So ha ha.

Also, a new tradition is to post a picture or youtube video relevant to something, so here's the final boss music from Nier. I posted it before, but it changes just before you deal the killing blow, which I think is a great example of emotionally attacking a player/reader before a character death.

And why not, here's the original song in case you forgot.


onelowerlight said...

Yeah, it can definitely be difficult. I've found that it helps, though, to remember that everyone dies (or passes out of this mortal realm in some fashion). If I love a character and yet the story demands that they die, the best that I can do is to make that death really mean something--to make them die well. Because everybody dies, but not everybody dies well.

Jason L Secrest said...

That's pretty heavy... there's a reason that nobody has ever died in anything I ever wrote (minus Zander's mother... I still feel bad about that). I just can't make myself pull the literary trigger. That's probably also why I'm writing middle grade fantasy now. Me and the little guys... we think that part of fantasy is the immortality of the people/places/ideas we love. Maybe that's one of the reasons I liked the princess bride so much. Only 2 deaths that I can think of: inigo's father, and the man who killed inigo's father. Not even humperdink dies.

So here's to life and immortality. Go team!

Cholisose said...

Yeah, it can be pretty difficult to kill your characters, and I remember in one of my books I ended up killing quite a few of them. I wasn't good enough at the craft to feel truly attached to them though, so it's something I'm trying to work on. (Or perhaps I had just been working on that book so long, I just didn't care anymore by the time I reached the final act.)
I think it's good to take readers by surprise with a character death when you can, and it works just right for the story. Some stories I feel pull it off poorly though, because the author has made it pretty obvious that the character is going to die soon. =/

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