Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Fickle Reaper by Stuart R. West

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I’m Stuart R. West and I write thrillers, suspense and some dark tales. Part of the tropes of that genre is death. Not pleasant in real life, but it’s a plot device readers who seek out such tales expect. A murder mystery without a murder turns into an Encyclopedia Brown tale (“I wonder what happened to that quarter I had in my pocket earlier today.”).

The problem is sometimes I change my mind about characters’ fates. Often it comes down to the wire.  Sometimes I save a character from the Reaper’s scythe because I see potential for him in a sequel. Other times, I flat out have a hard time letting go. I know, right? Fickle.

This happened in both of my books with Books We Love Publishing. In Ghosts of Gannaway, I absolutely knew one character was slated for the great beyond, knew it before I set fingertips onto my laptop. I’m considered a “pantser,” a writer who wings the tale as they go along as opposed to a heavy pre-plotter (I know some writers who use index cards, painstakingly plotting out every move before they begin; hey, it works for them.). But the one absolute I knew before I started writing? The character had to die to serve the story. When the concluding chapters neared, though, doubt began to scratch me. At first, just an annoyance; later, a full-on itch I couldn’t reach. I really liked this character. At the last minute, I pulled a deus ex machina, saved the character.

Secret Society was a different story. Again, from the start I knew this particular character would be destined for death’s door. But as I peeled back layers on the character, he surprised me with previously unseen depths I couldn’t have predicted. A wonderful feeling for writers. Even though he’s not a particularly likable character, I changed my mind. His story wasn’t finished yet.

There’s a saying amongst writers: Kill your darlings. It actually refers to a writer’s need to recognize their own self-indulgent and over-written passages, and then get rid of them. No matter how pretty they may read. (The saying has been attributed to many people over the years, most famously William Faulkner and Stephen King. But it came from Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Cambridge professor who lectured on writing and style.) While I, too, am often guilty of this writing crime, I’m learning how to punish myself appropriately by fixing the writing. Unable to kill some of my characters, though? Guilty, guilty, guilty! I act as the governor of my books, granting last minute reprieves to certain characters. But who will grant me a reprieve from saving my characters?

So I make this pact with myself.  In the future, I promise not to save predestined to die characters. No more Mr. Nice Writer. From now on, you’ll see a meaner (not so much, leaner) Stuart R. West. But at least I won’t be fickle.

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