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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
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.