Friday, November 4, 2016

If You're Real, I Won't Kill You

A popular post from December 2009

by Annette Lyon

Due to the fact that it's holiday season and none of us are particularly active (or, let's face it, over our eggnog comas and even awake), this post is something from the archives of my personal blog.

It, however, writing-related: a writing first for me, and quite possibly an obsession.

Since that post first made its appearance back when I had oh, about a dozen people regularly reading my blog, I'm guessing that

1) most Writing on the Wall readers haven't seen it and
2) quite a few might relate to it.

(Happy New Year!)


I think I was fourteen at the time. I’d gone with my mother to the local university bookstore, where she agreed to buy me a binder for my writing. It was a rosy pink. The binder still sits on a shelf in my office.

Once home, I eagerly filled it with notebook paper, then plopped onto the living room couch and began scribbling.

I had no concrete story idea; I was just in the mood to write. I began with an image and went with it: a little girl walking through a meadow where her imaginary friends lived. I’m sure the idea was a direct result of the fact that at the time, I constantly poured over the work of L.M. Montgomery, of
Anne of Green Gables fame.

In the brief story, the girl greets fairies and other mythical creatures and bemoans how she has no other friends. The other children mock and tease her. She feels welcome only there with her magical companions. As I wrote, I discovered that the girl also has a serious illness and rarely gets to go out to her meadow.

She lies on the ground, hidden from sight by the flowers above and around her. Then she closes her eyes and whispers, “My dears, I’ve come to join you.”

And dies.

It was a perfectly melodramatic story for a teen to write. But overdone as the two-page ditty was, the ending hit me with a bolt of lightning. I closed the binder and stared at it, feeling not a little shaky.

A little girl was dead, and I had killed her.

It didn’t matter that she was fictional, that she hadn’t ever really inhabited this world, experienced life, or had a family to mourn her passing. (I worried about her poor mother—would she be able find her daughter under all those flowers?) In those few minutes I’d lived with her on the page, she had been real to me.

The sensation was odd—a creative rush combined with the sensation of intense guilt almost nauseating in its strength. The little dead girl seemed to haunt me for days afterward.

I’m sorry, I wanted to say. I didn’t mean to kill you. I didn’t know you’d die. It took a week or two to get over the guilt.

Then I had my first dip into research. I had to figure out what she’d died from, so I cracked open one of my mother’s many reference books and read up on various fatal illnesses that could strike children. For reasons I don’t recall, I settled on aplastic anemia, a disease I knew nothing about save for a brief description written in tiny text. The fact that a child minutes away from death wouldn’t be in a position to frolic in a meadow was pretty much irrelevant.

Since then, I’ve killed many fictional people, but I’ve reached the point where I no longer take responsibility for their deaths. I grieve when they die; they’re my friends, in a way. But it’s not my fault. Sometimes characters, just like people, die.

After reading
At the Journey’s End, a man in my neighborhood came to me and said, “What is your problem with death?”

Confused, I asked, “What do you mean?”

“By the end of the first chapter, three people are dead.”

At first I was taken aback. THREE? No way. But then I thought through the opening of my book. One person dies in the prologue. One in the first chapter. Oh, wait. Two. Yep. That makes three. But both deaths in chapter one were real historical figures. I didn’t kill them. They actually died on that day in history; I just told about it.

As if that made it so much better.

So I thought back to my other books. My first one has a mother already dead before the book begins, which is pretty much what the plot revolves around. Plus a little girl’s kitten dies. Oh, and a man dies in the girl's presence. Almost forgot that one. My second book features two deaths. And
House on the Hill? Several pretty major deaths. Plus a dog.
Wow, I thought. I do have some kind of fascination with killing people off.
The best response I could come up with for my neighbor was, “Rest assured, no one dies in my next book.” I paused to double-check, thinking through
Spires of Stone just to be sure—did anyone—or anything—die in it? Even a cat or dog? A mouse? Nope. No one dies. Phew.

However . . . I can’t say the same for
Tower of Strength. Sorry. It does have two deaths. Wait. Three. My obsession with the end of life is apparently quite healthy.

[Update: my upcoming Band of Sisters doesn't escape death either. It has at least two. Crimeny!]

But I’m innocent! I swear,
I didn’t kill anyone. It’s not my fault, and I won’t feel guilty over it.

Okay, I still cried writing them.

Goodness, we writers are certainly an odd lot . . .


Terresa said...

Think about death? Much? :) Go drink some egg nog now, you'll feel much better (as will your 14-yr-old self!).

Happy New Year!

L.T. Elliot said...

Hey, death's a part of life. And if you can't knock off a few characters now and then, what's to keep a writer from knocking off a few REAL characters now and then? ;)

Nisa said...

Your neighbor isn't a fan of conflict, is he? *grin* Very interesting post!

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Let's see: How many have I killed?
Leona & Me = 1
Just Like Elizabeth Taylor = 0
Tides Across the Sea = 1 well-known character, plus hundreds unnamed

Total Death count: 2 known characters
Hmmm. . . Should I be killing more, or do I just have a desire to let my characters survive?

Heather B. Moore said...

As we write, I think we put some of ourselves into each character, even if it's just a small habit or a similar thought pattern. Regardless, it does affect us to kill off characters.

As I wrote my recent book, I kept thinking: I am writing a tragedy. Yes, it will have a satisfactory end, but there is a death in the book that forever changes many people.

Heather Justesen said...

As I read your post I thought that i hardly ever kill anyone off, then I started counting.

The Ball's in Her Court: 0
Rebound: 1
Blank Slate: 4
Family by Design: 2
current WIP: 1

Yeah, so apparently I do like death after all. =)

Nishant said...

Very interesting post!

Work from home India

Crystal Collier said...

My publisher made me kill a main character in my last book. It was not a pleasant thing, but I realized it did strengthen the story, so as excruciating as it was, I did it. And made my editor cry. Heck, I was crying...on the inside. The things we do for the love of writing, eh?