An Author’s Perspective to Killing off Characters

In the process of writing my post examining why authors kill off main characters, I had to examine my own feelings on the subject. Normally, I dislike it when characters die. I’m fine with reading to see if a character will be happy, and I don’t have a problem with a lot of happily-ever-after endings. But sometimes, that’s not how a story goes.

(Warning: Plot Spoilers for Little Women below.)

As I thought through the subject, I realized that I don’t like retaining a character just so they can be happy, just so we can cheat death a little longer. In Little Women, for example, I think Beth lives too long. From my perspective as a reader, she should have died of scarlet fever before her mother got there. That night, when Jo sees her and says goodbye, is so poignant, so beautifully sorrowful that keeping her on seemed wrong. I know there were some plot reasons involved (Beth’s death is a catalyst for Laurie and Amy’s romance, to a degree), but I think the same affect could’ve been achieved by killing off Marmee (who dies not much later in the series anyways, her role in life done) or through some other means than dragging out Beth’s life.

I know; it sounds horrible, but after Beth’s bout with scarlet fever, her character does very little. She’s not the same as she was before, and it feels like Alcott brought Beth to this tragic moment and turned back rather than just letting her go.

And I realized, as much as I like my characters and want to keep them around, if they are done living…if their script says “Finis,” then I can’t change that. I have to write the sad scene and say goodbye and let them go, even if it hurts, because keeping them around won’t bring them back to life. They’ll just be a shell of themselves, because they have nothing left to say or do. Their part in the story is over, and if I don’t recognize it, I’m just keeping them on life support when their soul has already departed.

Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren

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