This week: Death of a CharacterEdited by: ember_rain
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I hesitated to volunteer to do a spirituality newsletter, until one of my children pointed out who better than me. I am the eldest daughter of a church of Christ preacher and a social worker. Growing up, I got to see the best and the worst in a multitude of people from a multitude of places. To come clean, I no longer consider myself a Christian. I do not believe that I have abandoned my path, but rather the path abandoned me. My mother assures me that had my grandmother not convinced my father he wasn't good at anything but public speaking, they would have followed the same path. I am here to share a bit about what my childhood and more often than not, what my father taught me. He is no longer with us, but his message never changed. What kind of a daughter would I be not to share it.
This close to Thanksgiving, at least in the US, I figured I would be doing this on the spirituality of giving thanks. Maybe in a way I am. I was woken early on the morning of November 10th, for those who don't know me, I was getting one of those rare moments of sleep I can afford while doing NANOWRIMO. My second oldest, woke me to let me know the youngest of the kittens was dead. My youngest son, who should have been asleep long before this, was standing beside me as I lifted the kitten up from the couch. "Why do all of the grey kittens, with silver tipped fur die?"
It was an honest and intelligent question from a twelve year old that deserved an honest and intelligent answer. "The silver tips on the fur is most likely associated with some sort of birth defect. Remember son, this one was a part of a litter of two and it's sibling never took a breath. The odds were stacked against it."
I waited for the" but why," that normally comes after such a statement. There wasn't one. He has seen way to much death in his young life. In the last six years we have lost the last of my grandparents, my father, my husbands step- father, grandfather, grandmother, great grand mother, and two of his uncles one less than fifty years old; one dieing on the same day as the funeral for the other. If anyone has a right to ask "but why," it is my son.
It never stops to amaze me the toughness of children. When I asked him about it he just shrugged. "Death is part of the human condition."
Yes, I have a 12 year old that uses terms like human condition. He, like the rest of his siblings, are often too smart for my own good. It was that comment that sparked this newsletter. Yes, death is part of the human condition. We are born. We live. We die. Our pets are born. They live. They died. Our characters are born some place in our imaginations, they live for the length of our stories then if they are lucky enough to survive the story, go out into obscurity where we often never think about them again. The luckier few actually die in the story.
Why do I say the luckier few? Would you want to live in obscurity for the rest of your days? Do you strive to have happily ever after when you have no idea what that means? Neither do our characters, but we often treat them that way. I am as guilty of this as anyone. Then again if you read any of my short stories you will see I often recycle characters, simply because the character is too important for me to let live in obscurity. One of them even has a cameo in my current NANOWRIMO novel.
Now, I know enough about myself to know that if I kill off a character even as part of a writing exercise, I can never bring that character back again. To kill a character I have to go through an entire process that stops just short of a memorial service, though my husband would wholeheartedly disagree on where I stop. My question to you, is do you avoid the dreaded subject of death? Are their things your characters could learn about themselves and others, or better yet things you could learn about you, by killing off a character or two?"
When my father died just a bit over a month after his fifty-fifth birthday, I thought for sure there was nothing I had to learn from the experience. It was forever going to be one painful knot in my chest that taught me nothing. Well, I was right about the knot. It still hurts to think about him not being here even though we are coming up on the 6th anniversary of his death this January. What would have hurt worse is if my previous belief had been true.
I have learned scores without Daddy here for the very simple reason, I had to do it myself. He couldn't come to the rescue anymore. He couldn't adjust the tilt of the moon or make sure the sun rose and set anymore. He left that job to my ailing grandfather and my husband. Thank the gods that Clanbear was up to the job when he had to do it by himself.
My father made a huge impact in a lot of peoples lives. His death hurt a lot of people. His friends, at the end of his life, were people who needed him, a woman with a sever social anxiety disorder living too far from her family, a homeless vet he paid once a month to drive out here and pick up my yard or rake the leaves, and a man who blamed himself for not fighting his ex-wife harder for visitation rights when he son was busted for drug dealing. This was the man I knew. The man who in fifty-five years of living touched more lives than most people could in twice that time. I lost contact with his friends. I regret that. That regret, that ability to come to him that was no longer there, these things have shaped the lives of everyone that knew him.
Yes, I know killing off a character is never easy, but death isn't just part of the human condition; it's part of the life condition. Even our plants eventually die. Your characters are born of your imagination, they live as long as you see fit. Some are set aside never to finish living that life, in part I am sure due to the grief you would feel letting go of such a beloved character. Others though, others need to live out the totality of life so that the characters around them and the readers who read them, can experience life through fiction and better understand the human condition.
Now here is hoping I can follow another of my father's lessons and practice what I preach.
This topic is a bit heavy so as not to totally bring down your day, I leave you with only five items to consider.
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Have you ever used death as a writing tool? If so, was it an important character or just an extra you added for the purpose of dieing? If it was an important character how did you cope so that you could bring yourself to actually letting them go?
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