When I was very little I used to watch my mom cut clothes and lay them out and pin them. I remember her fussing for hours with a corner of a skirt or the fit of a sleeve that simply wouldn’t “lie right.” She would pin and unpin, and cut a little, to accommodate defects of weaving, or whatever, until the thing at last assumed the shape she wanted, or did what she wanted. (And sometimes she was trying to get mere fabric to do rather unusual things in terms of draping and hiding or flattering a bad figure.)
It’s weird the images that stick with you, that you take with you into adulthood and your own work. For weeks now, I’ve been pinning and unpinning the end of Noah’s Boy, because it refused to “lie flat” or in this case to crease excitingly at it tilted and sped its way towards the end. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was doing wrong.
Like mom, unpinning and creasing a corner, I thought “Maybe I need to kill a character.” But the character it occurred to me to kill didn’t seem to do anything for the plot. I just lighted on him because he was – and is – one of the important pillars of this novel, and because – well, you know, writers are despicable – he seems to be in a path to get everything he wants, so, you know, shock horror and only the good die young…
Only I told Dan I might have to kill Conan and he said if I did he’d divorce me… Look, I’m no fool. I really want the book to be the best it can be, but I like my marriage better. And while I doubt Dan would divorce me, there would be a coldness. And I don’t like coldness.
I tried to work around it, but I couldn’t get Tom’s decision at the end to make sense (truth be told, I couldn’t get it to make sense by killing Conan, either, it’s just that I could hide the not quite right crease under the sleeve of emotion, where no one would go looking. But it would probably make for an inferior book, and I don’t like that.) And anyway, it didn’t feel RIGHT.
It’s been worrying me so much that I’ve been writing and erasing the “same” ten thousand words for weeks, and my eczema is kicking up a fuss (not as bad as ALWAYS at the end of the musketeers mysteries, when I would have torn holes into the inside of my elbows. But then, that was a matter of knowing the house was going to do something “creative” to the poor book) and I’m sleeping funny. How funny?
Well, you know when you sleep and you know you’re really asleep, but your brain is still worrying at whatever the work of the day was and won’t let go. And you wake up just enough to veto this idea or that?
I’ve had nights like that, my brain kicking up images and scenes I promptly wail back “but that doesn’t make any sense” to and bury. And with the urgency of getting this to the house before they decide I’m too much trouble to work with (honestly, if it weren’t for the flu, this would have been finished months ago) it just kept getting odder and odder.
And then last night I had this image of Tom waking up to a scene of unimaginable horror involving a character I didn’t even realize was a favorite of mine, but who apparently was, because I felt the unimaginable horror and kind of scooted halfway awake and went “No. Just no. Calm down, Sarah, it’s not true. You can go to sleep again. No one is hurting THAT character.”
I turned over, and I couldn’t go to sleep. Because by that time my rational brain was awake, and it was going “Yeah. Yeah. That piece” (terribly apropos, actually) “fits, and that one, and that’s how Tom figures out how to— And besides, it sets it all up nicely for the sequels without Deus ex Machina kicking up every time. And by the way, it forces Tom to go where you want him, in the final battle.”
All of which is well and good, except I didn’t want that character to DIE.
This weekend at the conference I heard a number of readers say that they thought writers killed characters “just to prove the book is serious” and that it annoyed them, and that they hated it when writers killed a continuing character, and besides – ARGH – how can they trust us when we’re stone-cold killers?
I don’t know about other writers. Perhaps some writers do kill characters for the heck of it, or to prove they’re serious. If I had to kill a character to show that it’s not all fun and skittles, it would be a peripheral one, perhaps introduced this book. Or a fan who’d get a kick out of dying in Noah’s Boy. (You know who you are, the people who’ve EARNED red shirting.)
But no. None of this will work, unless I kill a character I’m very fond of, and one who is a continuing character.
One the good side, I now know how to close this book – how to make the end drape as I wish. Which means I can finally make an end, and then typo hunt, and then send it in, before the editors send specialized revision ninjas to my house and stand behind my chair, and take my cats hostage till I deliver. (Or before they drop me because I can’t be trusted.)
And if I have to choose between my sanity and a character’s life – wait, there’s a difference? – then (relative) sanity will win every time. I shall kill the figment of my imagination, and live to write another day.
BUT when you’re reading Noah’s Boy, I want you to know it hurt me. I might be a killer, but I’m not indifferent.
(And now goes off to make the death really traumatic for EVERYONE who reads this. Eh eh eh eh eh. Er… I mean, to write it solemnly and reverently. Eheheheheh.)