By Jean Henry Mead
Ever wonder how novelists decide which of their characters to kill? I was recently forced to kill a character I loved because I had written myself into a corner. I was so upset that I had to stop writing that day. I then remembered something Benjamin Capps once told me during an interview:
“Probably no reader of mine ever felt so strongly [about the storyline] or shed a small tear unless I had already done so in the writing.”
Emotional investment in a writer’s characters is undoubtedly what makes a novel successful. If an author doesn’t really care about his characters, why should the reader? But how involved does a writer have to be to make his readers care? That’s a question someone much smarter than I am will have to answer.
I do know, however, that many of us live with our characters 24/7, until the book comes to a conclusion. Then it’s hard for me to let go, which is why I like writing a series. The characters to whom I’ve given birth can age right along with me, unless, of course, I’m forced to whack them.
After covering a police beat for eight years and writing about the worst aspects of human nature, I decided to write a senior sleuth series. Shirl Lock & Holmes features two 60-year-old widows; one a private investigator’s wife, the other a mystery novel buff. The friends are literally forced to discover the identity of a compulsive murderer, who is alphabetically doing away with their friends . By literally, I mean they realize their own names are on the killer’s list.
In the second novel, I placed them in a motorhome in the midst of a Rocky Mountain blizzard. I then killed one my character’s sister, but the reader doesn’t get to know her until her diary is found and read throughout the novel. I didn’t shed a tear until the last entry was read.
I like my main characters because they’re witty and sassy, according to one reviewer, and I could never bring myself to knock one of them off. But anyone who threatens them in any way is in big trouble in my book. I’m also a compulsive killer. (Literary, that is.)