Today I realised one of my characters has to die. It’s a surprising realisation to come to, so late in the editing process but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. It’s a sad conclusion to come to though, as this character is one of the few who’s survived since the earliest incarnation of this story. There’s even a picture of him, drawn by a family friend, an illustrator, on the back of the earliest draft of the germ of an idea back when I was only 11 or so.
All the characters feel as real as distant friends. I know their likes and dislikes, their moods, their faults. In the early days of planning I would pick out their favourite music, favourite books, favourite films. It was the same process as new friends or lovers go through…except that I was providing both answer and question. It sounds nuts, certifiable maybe, but I don’t know any other way of getting to know a character as if they are real. When it works then, once the story starts rolling, it can feel as if the characters take control and guide what direction a scene takes. Those are the days when the writing really flows.
But the axe has to be swung. It works for the plot, gives other characters more passion and is generally a good idea. I’ll miss this one but the time has come so now I’m going to have to play at murder.
The problem with the day job is that murder is something I’m rather familiar with. I’ve sat next to quite a few people who’ve killed, over the past couple of years, even spoken to a couple. As I prepare for my fictional murder a wealth of details present themselves. Do I use blunt object trauma? Strangulation? A weapon – knife, axe, slash hook?
It sounds callous, ghoulish even, but when you spend a lot of time listening to evidence in murder trials it can be difficult not to sift through the details like a connoisseur looking for the juiciest chunks. You become desensitised to the horror of forensic details. As a journalist you look at evidence in terms of the hook that will snare your reader down past the first paragraph. As a writer you look at the details, the relics of someone’s life and death as components to be filed away for future reference.
So now I’m planning my own murder from the pick n’ mix of details, real and fictional. It’s impossible to think of a knife attack without memories of dozens of post mortem accounts, the length of the blade, the angle of thrust, the difference in slicing or stabbing gestures.
If poisoning is the option do I go with historical methods – take inspiration from the Borgias perhaps – or do I tread a more familiar path – look into the poisons mentioned in the emails between the Devil in the Red Dress herself, Sharon Collins, and her Internet “hitman” Essam Eid?
I’m fond of this particular character. It’s a long and interesting association. I want the death to be a fitting one…the sacrifice will make a better book. I’ll plan the murder carefully so that it satisfies both the journalist in me and the storyteller. And then I’ll raise a glass to the fallen character and get on with the rest of the book.