It is said that, when the time came to kill off D’Artagnan, Dumas couldn’t bring himself to do the deed, and had his right-hand man Maquet do it.*
It is also said that Dumas killed off Porthos in person – and wept like a baby over it.
I think I rather understand him.
I have vivid memories of killing off my first hero ever, some twenty years ago. I sat up late at night to write, and it was my insomniac father who found me in tears, and wanted to know what was the matter…
“I’ve just killed Ned!” I sobbed – and if Dad was amused, he covered it well. I remember the exhilaration of having reached the last page, and the awfulness of having pushed under a cab this fellow I had imagined, and followed from childhood to early thirties, and put through all sorts of ups and downs, and grown to love… But he had to die in the end for the story to make the sense I wanted it to make. And so I cried my eyes out, but push him under the cab I did.
Back then I was very young and green at the game, but it would seem that, twenty years later, little has changed. Last weekend I reached the last-but-one, climatic scene of the opera libretto I’m writing for a composer. The scene involves a duel, in which my hero gets himself killed, poor lad. Now, don’t go and assume I kill of all my main characters… Oh well, I often do – but this time it isn’t exactly my choice. The libretto is a commission and a loose adaptation from someone else’s work, and I couldn’t change the ending, even if I wished.**
And yet, bearing all the above in mind, and having known from the beginning how it would end, I found myself dithering like mad, and tinkering past reason with the market scene that precedes the duel, and making myself multiple cups of tea – anything to postpone the fatal blow a little longer.
In the end, it took me twentyseven hours to kill the fellow – an inhuman length of time, I’ll agree – and I may not have teared up, but I very much wanted to. Like my much younger self. Like Dumas. Like, I’ll wager, a whole lot of writers.
Let no one tell you writing isn’t gruesome work. We do a lot of darling-killing, and it’s not always all that metaphorical. We make up people, we grow to know and love them – and then we kill them, and manage to be so very sorry about it.
Someone might call it not just gruesome, but weirdly so.
* Sounds terribly felonious, doesn’t it? Actually, Auguste Maquet was a history teacher and a very minor novelist, who earned a living as a sort of writing assistant to Dumas. It didn’t end well.
** Not that I do: it makes such perfect dramatic sense…
Davide Mana said:
One of the best books about writing (and everything else) I ever read is called “Death is no Obstacle”… just saying.
On the other hand, I take this “Kill your darlings” bit more or less like I take the “Bleed on the page” story. It’s the sort of thing writers say when they are cornered and have to sound profound – pain always lends a sense of gravity that a good laugh fails to convey.
And yet, certainly, writing a character means developing a form of affection for him or her – I am very protective of my characters, even of those that are sure to survive in the end.
And after all, it has been observed I am not a “true writer” – and for us hacks out here, as I mentioned, death is no obstacle 😉
la Clarina said:
😀 Did I say it was an obstacle? I *did* kill him, after all.
Why, I’m told I’m unable to write anything without a body count… Which is, considering, true enough – but also slightly inevitable, when one writes historical fiction, with all those wars, and revolutions, and otherwise deadly stuff…
So, if a “true writer” is someone balking at death as an obstacle, it would seem I ain’t one either…
Davide Mana said:
As far as I was able to ascertain, “true writers” are those that claim other writers are not.
It’s sort of a class that defines itself by denial.
As for killing characters, stories have their economy, and deaths are part of it.