IWSG POST 16: To Kill or Alter Favorite Characters for the Worse? What Do You Do? #IWSG

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[I wrote this post as a member of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our worries and also offer support and encouragement to each other on the first Wednesday of every month. If you’re a writer like me and you’re looking for a bit of support, you can click the link and sign up here]

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untitled-designBack in the late 80’s I was a seventh grader in a middle school in Wichita, Kansas. Bound and determined to read some of the classic books, I checked out Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Four sisters sounded great. I didn’t have any at the time. At that point in my life I was yearning for some sort of family structure.

I devoured the words and the characters right away. Jo was my favorite and I found myself rooting for her. She’d get the boy. She deserved it, I thought. But as I continued to read on, the boy fell in love with the super sweet sister and I closed the book. I couldn’t bare to read on with my own heart broken for Jo.

I’m writing about Little Women today to illustrate the impact of the rule, “Kill Your Darlings.” It’s the rule I picked to answer this month’s IWSG question: “What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?”

My answer came from an article straight out of Writer’s Digest, “7 Rules in Writing You can Ignore.”

I can ignore this one?  I think I threw my head back, both hands in the air and yelled out, “Finally!”

I desperately dislike when bad things skew my favorite characters in such a way, there’s no turning back. I see the outcome two ways. 1.) The character will probably never recover; and 2.) I doubt if I will either. There is a strong difference in placing one’s champion in a really difficult spot, one where you bite your nails and desperately pray, “please, you’ve got to get out of this. I don’t know how, but get out of this now.”

I want to believe in hope.

Because sometimes, that’s all you’ve got. And maybe this is my insecurity. I’m not sure if I am made to kill a character I’ve tried to breathe the best of themes and life into. How about you? What’s your take on killing off your favorites? Ever had a book you stopped reading because you didn’t like the character outcome?

Goal Update.

First writing workshop is done. The Agent Query and the First Five Pages. I hope to post some tips of what I have learned later on this month. I also made it through the edits of my working manuscript with one chapter to go! I’m excited! I found a great book called “Revision and Self-Editing: Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel,” by James Scott Bell, to help me.

Stay tuned for the 20th too, I’ll be posting something really fun from my kids and myself. We did a great writing project together. It was so much fun 🙂

Thank you to January Co-Hosts:
Eva @ Lillicasplace
Crystal Collier
Sheena-kay Graham
Chemist Ken
LG Keltner
Heather Gardner

You all are amazing! I appreciate your time and attention.

~Erika

About Erika Beebe

Author, dreamer, and a momma to a couple of wonderful kids, I try to live life everyday in hope and inspire others along my way.

Posted on January 4, 2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. I strongly believe that the pay-off at the end of the story should be worth the struggles, pain and tears my characters had gone through. Otherwise, what’s the point? Hope is important. Great post – thanks for the link.

  2. There have been times when I’ve felt betrayed because a favorite character was killed off or suffered some horrible fate. I like your sentiment about believing in hope when it comes to our beloved characters.

    • Thank you Ellen. I appreciate your comment. I guess I don’t like betrayal either. That’s the perfect word. You fall in love with a character and then they are taken away from you somehow. Hope is my guiding North Star 🙂

  3. Great post, Erika. I don’t think I could ever kill off a favorite character, at least not literally. I’ve read some good books where I thought a favorite character would beat the odds, but then be upset with the ending. It didn’t make most of the books less enjoyable, but I found myself heartbroken with some endings. The fact that I was made to feel so much emotion for a character says a lot about how good the writer is (was).

    Thanks for visiting and commenting on m blog and enjoy the rest of IWSG day! Eva, IWSG co-host #60

    • Thank you Eva. I hadn’t thought of writing that way before. How good it was if I cared so much. Thank you for the great insight. I hope you have a lovely rest of your day 🙂

  4. I’m with you. I believe in hope. Without it, we perish. Although I did once kill a major character, I didn’t leave the other one without any hope.

  5. I believe in hope too. People read to have someone to root for.

  6. Good morning, Erika!

    Yes, we MUST have hope in our writing, no matter how dark the story gets. But THERE’s the key for me. It’s THROUGH the darkness that my characters find hope. I remember hearing that rule for the first time and thought, “No WAY! I can’t kill a character.” And then a beautiful character came to me in a story (one that’s still in storage by the way) and I knew from the moment I first typed her name she was going to die. I was so angry. But then I realized if she didn’t die, one of the other characters would have to. The key is killing off characters with redemption. Their deaths have to move the story along in order to FIND the hope the other characters need. It’s not easy and I don’t believe it’s for everyone. Disclaimer: I do write horror so I’m rather fond of killing off characters but I only do it if I know it’s going to push the other characters out of the darkness and back into the light!

    Congratulations on your story in the Anthology! I look forward to reading your entry 🙂

    Cheers and Happy New Year!
    Jen

    • Happy Wednesday to you, Jen. You are incredibly brave. I admire you sticking to your dream and your gut instinct. Haha! I will have to check out some of your horror writing. I am a suspense girl, but do love a great nail biter. Happy New Year! Thank you for your sweet comment and thoughts. 🙂

  7. Congrats, Erika. You’ve come a long way and I’m glad to see you succeed once again. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    • Thank you so much Anna. I have been reading and studying everything I can on story structure this year, my definite weakness. Determination drives the heart and mind to success and I am finally full of it again. 🙂

  8. I have to admit, none come to mind–a book I stopped reading because I didn’t like what was happening to the main character. But, I agree. I don’t want my favorite main character to turn into a bad guy (yeah, I like cozies) and I don’t want them to lose hope.

    Congrats on your story success. Good job!

  9. I’ve tried to kill off a main character in my books, still haven’t been able to but it doesn’t keep me from trying with each new story. 🙂
    Congratulations on your win! IWSG Anthology – so cool!
    Happy 2017!

    • Thank you so much Yolanda! I appreciate you stopping in. I hope you have a fantastic New Year too and maybe this year you will find the motive for that character…haha 🙂

  10. I’m actually a firm believer that bad things have to happen to our characters, but I don’t change my characters for the worse. Only the best. 🙂

  11. Congrats on making it into the anthology! I was super excited to see your name on the list. ❤ And yay for the writing workshop!

    I quit reading GRRM's Song of Fire and Ice series after the first book because it was too depressing for me. I like hopeful characters, characters who remain optimistic that they will get what they want if they only persevere. I also like it when they get it too. But then I look at my own series, and I know where book 3 is going, and I know many people aren't going to like it. I do exactly as your title says–kill and alter favorite characters for the worse. As the author, I know book 4 is coming though. I know book 4 is where everything works out okay. In the grand scheme of things, everyone one gets their bittersweet ever after. I just hope people don't hate me for it.

  12. Hey, you made it into the anthology! Go you!

    I recently read a book where what the characters went through was so painful I wanted to just close the book. When it didn’t come to a nice conclusion at the end of book one, I pushed the series aside. As a reader, I can only suffer for so long. I agree that we can and should put our characters in tight spots, but there comes a point where it is too much. Thank goodness for editors who tell us so.

    • Awww…it sounds like you have one fantastic editor Crystal. Yes, I think words and advice from others helps with the courage part for me. Thank you also for your sweet and kind thoughts. Happy New Year 🙂

  13. Excellent post! I have a tough time killing off my “real” darlings. I did have a character I killed off in a book (well, okay, I killed off 2.5 of them – the 2.5 makes sense if you read the books), but I didn’t kill off my darlings. I killed off characters who were slated for death the moment they walked onto the page. Maybe my audience didn’t know it, but I did. All of these characters were too perfect, and had too many of the “answers” that my main character had to figure out on her own after several struggles.
    I know what you mean about Little Women though, I hated that book the first time my mom made me read it. I liked it better the first time, and then I made my daughters read it and my oldest refused to read past that same point. My youngest wanted Jo to go off on her own instead of marrying that “old” guy at the end (my daughter’s name for the character).

    I like hopeful characters, too.
    Best wishes on all of your hard work this month, and way to go on what you’ve done so far!

    • I am really interested in your story. 2.5 characters? I am smiling just thinking of the possibility:) And yay! I am so glad to know someone else feels like I do! Thank you Tyrean. I like how you made you children read it. I will probably do the same…my little girl is very opinionated and has a strong mind of her own. I am betting she will get mad too. Thank you Again for dropping in Tyrean. I will be stopping in shortly to visit you 🙂

  14. I have only ever killed on character, and doing so almost killed me! That said, I’ve killed so many of my darlings…meaning words, phrases, paragraphs, pages, chapters that I’ve loved. But, sorry, the had to go. The worst was writing 30K on one story, before scrapping it all and starting again. It WAS the right thing to do…

    • Oh my Liza! You have real guts! I do agree though, when writing drafts beyond the first one, I too have cut some major scenes and the bulk of material. Sigh. It’s so hard when you are in love with a scene but it does nothing for the reader 😦

  15. I believe that if people want to be depressed all they have to do is simply live their lives. I believe people read to dream of events that, while trying, are propelled by love, humor, and the peace of staying the course. If a reader pays money for my tales, I want to leave them the better and happier for having done so. Thanks for the nice comment on my blog. 🙂

    • I completely agree with you. Life is hard enough already. Why not focus on hope
      And giving people something to dream about. Thank you Roland. I appreciate you stopping in and leaving such a lovely thought. 🙂

  16. Yep, some rules can just be taken way too literally.
    Happy New Year, Erika!

  17. I haven’t killed off a main character, but I did HAVE to admit one of my beloved characters was a murderer,,,something like heartbreaking to see that side of a character. Love your blog post. Never lose hope.

  18. mlouisebarbourfundyblue

    Congratulations on your story being chosen for the anthology, Erika! What an honor. I agree with your post. I believe in hope! I have no problem with heroes being flawed, but I want to see them rise above and overcome their flaws as they undertake their heroic challenges. I’m most unhappy when they die.

    I enjoyed reading “Little Women” when I was young, and like you, I was disappointed when Jo’s sister got the guy. I finished it and discovered that Jo married a middle-aged Professor Baher. It took me a failed first marriage to Mr. Razzle Dazzle to realize that marrying a warm, tender, affectionate man was a wise choice for Jo. I chose much better the second time around, and now I understand how wise Jo’s choice in husbands was.

    I’ve never killed off a main character; but then again, I know better than to “never say never!”
    Such proclamations always come back and bite me!

    Happy writing in 2017!

    • Thank you for the sweet wishes and the sweet comment. I really appreciate you sharing your experience with Little Women. I had never looked back to finish it. I had never thought about the man she ended up with. You’re very right there. I have had my share of bad picks. I too am with someone now who knows how to keep me calm and be the true partner I need. And yes! Never say never…we are always growing and maybe I will change my mind down the road. Happy New Year 🙂

  19. I haven’t killed off a favorite character…yet. Not sure if I’ll be able to do so. There’s always a first time. But I know it would break my heart.
    Congrats on your story making it into the anthology. 🙂
    Happy New Year!

  20. Only one more chapter to go with the editing process! That’s is awesome. Congratulations, Erika. And for your winning story for the anthology as well. 2017 is shaping up to be your year! 🙂 Since I am writing a memoir, killing off my favorite characters would mean they (myself and my husband) died in real life. Nope. Not willing to do that! 🙂 Although, we did loose some major characters without me making it so, unfortunately.

    • Aww…I am sorry to hear about you losing special people in your life. I think you are brave to write a memoir. I am afraid my past would come back and take me to court if I wrote mine. Some day, maybe, I will find the strength to attempt it. Thank you for your sweet wishes.

  21. I get mad at authors who wreck the lives of my favorite characters, but I have to admit that I’ve done that in my books, usually when the story screams at me and says, you must kill this darling!! Otherwise, I prefer happy endings. I think “killing the darlings” refers to more than characters, though. It might apply to the amazing scene that we love, but really doesn’t fit in the final book, the fabulous description of the ocean that is just too long, the backstory that we find riveting, but that the reader doesn’t need. I’ve killed those darlings a lot and it’s painful every time!

  22. The man by Bram Stoker, the MC did something that caused me to close the book for a week. I was so angry and terrified of the outcome I couldn’t deal.

    I get it though, as a writer, I shove a lot of crap onto my characters and yes I kill them off. We both know (the character and I) that it needs to happen. I find it quiet peaceful 😀

    • Haha! I love how you and your characters agree. Pretty awesome actually. I never read The Man, but if it bothered you, I am not sure what would happen to me. Hopefully I can find your same peace one day. I have been experimenting with my flash fiction and some really strange twists. 🙂

      • It is a very good read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Except for that area haha!
        Try killing the character before you know them. X will die in a car crash. Then fill in the details. That way you know from the beginning you ‘darling’ will die, is dead. It’s what I did for my first death. The dude has to die, no way around it. I then made the scene as comic and dramatic as possible. He knows he went out with a bang!! Haha!

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