Creating characters is a tough job. I’ve also discussed where they might find their seed in a previous post. I can’t be alone, as a writer, in cherishing some of the characters I’ve created. That applies as much to villains as heroes. I know I can’t be alone. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that great master of the ultimate in detective, forensics slanted, crime stories had both his Sherlock Holmes and his Professor Moriarty. Both lived through numerous clashes, until the final showdown.
The problem is, however, that we can’t live through those cherished characters alone. At some point we must make a decision to either simply abandon them, leaving the end of their story untold in effect, or we must kill them. The lucky ones may be fortunate enough to die of old age, but the majority tend to meet less happy ends. If their end must be violent, then will it be in some final act of heroism? Or will it be some senseless calamity, like being killed in a traffic accident? Whatever end they meet, the task of writing it is far, far harder than the process of creation.
A problem with assassinating characters is that we may be doing something that our readers find deplorable. If our characters have found their way into the hearts of others, we’re risking a great deal by ending them. We may even alienate some of our readers, driving them away from anything else we may write. Unfortunately, we must be Angels of Death regardless. We are fortunate, in one respect, in that we may leave enough gaps to permit us to return to the same characters at some future date, plugging in new episodes in their lives, or writing a prequel or two – but only if we were less than thorough in chronicling the life of the character. But there will still be some who may never forgive our murder of a favourite character.
It occurred to me, a little while ago, that it’s quite possible that writers have, collectively, killed more people than all the wars, famines, volcanic eruptions and other disasters have in the history of humanity! Some writers, indeed, have killed off billions in world cataclysms, so I’m confident that we are truly ruthless in the pursuit of our craft. And yet, we can still agonise over the deaths of individual characters. We are, undoubtedly, a very strange breed!