The Writer’s Burden


This morning, I got up bright and early (before the sun even came up). I stretched a bit, fed the cat her morning dose of cream, and walked into my office… where I killed someone.

This is a person I’ve come to love, who is dear to me. But he had to die. Why? Because historically, he did.

And that, my friends, is the hardest thing a writer faces when dealing in fiction, speculative or otherwise. Historical figures die. People you have come to love and care for as characters die. You can’t change their fate. You can’t yank Marie Antoinette out from under Madame le Guillotine. You can’t save Thomas Andrews from his death in the Smoking Room. You can’t rescue Thomas More from the axe.

If you’re anything like me, you cry while you write it. A lump rises in your throat as characters say farewell. They’re ripped away from you by history as brutally as history tore them away from the people who loved them. And whatever fantastical thing you’re creating, that can’t change (unless you’re writing “alternate history,” of course!).

Truthfully, I killed two characters this morning – one after another, because that’s how it happened. But I gave them a proper send-off, one I hope will be emotionally satisfying to my reader, because if anything, that’ what I CAN change in history. I can give a sense of peace, even in loss, to my audience. I like to hope (if not think) that my characters become nearly as dear to my readers as they are to me, but somehow I doubt it. I’m the one who knows them best, who knows what they never tell you, as the reader. And perhaps, that’s why a loss is even more profound for an author than for the readers.

Either way, a little slice of my heart died this morning, as I bid someone I dearly loved farewell. It’s funny, as humans, we choose a lot of pain. We choose pets even though our lifespan will be many years longer than theirs, and we know that eventually they’ll be gone. We choose to fall in love, knowing that someday, one of us will die first. And as writers, we choose to embrace, to adore, and to love historical characters that we know full well are going to draw tears out of us as we write their send-off. Why? I don’t know, but somewhere deep inside, we must know it’s worth it.

8 thoughts on “The Writer’s Burden

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  1. I was in a similar situation years ago when writing about a great-great aunt who died young. You get attached to these great historical figures/characters and it is heart-wrenching to let them go.

  2. This is so true…and no one but writers can understand this unique pain. I’ve never written historical or used historical characters in my fiction, but it’s very hard to kill off a character that you created from nothing, even though you knew the moment you created them that it would happen…and in some cases, you even knew how and when it would happen. I have to kill my favorite character pretty soon (and yes, he is the antagonist), and I’m NOT looking forward to it.

    Sometimes I wonder if this is even a little like what our Creator felt as He spoke the world into existence…knowing that man would fall and need redemption, and knowing that not all would turn back into the fold.

    1. My sister (INFP) gets so emotional whenever she kills a character that people sometimes ask her at church if someone in her family died because she is teary-eyed for hours afterward.

    2. It’s interesting how attached we get to all our characters — I killed off one of my fictional creations in this novel and didn’t know going into it that she would die, but it had to happen to make something else happen — and I was sad to see her go, even though she wasn’t a very nice character for most of her part of the story.

      Yes, I’ve had that thought as well — that writers, perhaps, know a little bit of what it’s like to play God.

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