The killing off of characters is always a tricky business. Unless the span of the story is a single day there obviously have to be some casualties and if you’re writing about a pre-antibiotic era there should realistically be many. But publishers don’t much like major characters dying because if you’re not careful where the Grim Reaper swings his scythe you ruin the prospects for a sequel.
Sometimes you kill off a character because you can’t stand them any more. I’ll confess to having done that. But it being a fictional death I’ve then had the option of performing CPR and reinstating them. Murdering a character because he’s annoying is not a good defence for a writer. After all, if he’s getting on your nerves why should paying customers be expected to put up with him? No, the remedy for an irritating character is a rewrite. Little Nell, for instance. Wouldn’t you just love Dickens to come back and rework her? Although I will allow she isn’t half as irritating as her grandfather.
As you may have gathered I’m faffing around this week trying to decide when to kill someone and how. She’s in her fifties, which is a pretty good innings for Victorian London, and I think she has to go. The main question is whether she should die on the page or off it. I do quite a good death scene, though I do say it myself. I find they’re much easier to write than sex scenes, but it’s possible for either to go on way too long. The frustrated movie director in me is quite tempted to cut to the grave digger. You know? The scrape of shovel on frozen earth?
On the other hand, I’m rather fond of this character. Maybe I should let her live, to die in her dotage after THE END. But someone’s definitely got to go. It’s been a while, and you only have to run your eye down any 19th century family tree to know that funerals were very frequent events indeed.
So tomorrow morning’s task is to go through the cast of coffin-dodgers and see who else might be ripe for a good death.
You can see how writers succumb to megalomania. The power of life and death at the tip of a pencil.