Paige, from Milan, MI, writes, “How does it feel when one of your main characters dies?”
That is a question I have never been asked before, and it is an interesting one. It is really asking, what is the writers’ relationship to the characters we create? How real do they become? To what extent does the writer become caught up in the character’s lives, when, in essence these characters are not real? They are, after all, fictions.
To begin, sometimes a character IS based on a real person. The writers ‘engagement there is complex indeed. It is hard to relate the death of someone you know—even when fictionalized.
As for the totally fictional characters: I think that unless the writer becomes fully engaged with the fictional characters they create they are not likely to come alive on the page. One wants to think of them as alive, and real. I want to see, and hear my characters. The more I do so, the better my writing will be. The more alive they are, the more painful their deaths for me.
Now, sometimes, the writer, in some serendipitous fashion, stumbles upon a character that springs to life almost on his or her own. Consider Bear from Crispin. In some respects, he took over the book. So that in the sequel to Crispin (Crispin at the Edge of the World) when I wrote of Bear’s death it was very hard to do. That said, in my opinion, it helped make the sequel a better book than the first one.
(When a reader came upon Mr. Drabble’s death, (from Beyond the Western Sea), she sent me a furious letter telling me she hated me for not letting her favorite character live.)
Ultimately, novels about life and death are hemmed in by the plot. A plot, a good plot, has a logic all its own. The good writer constructs a sense of true life about characters. Where there is life, there may well be, alas, death.
Here is an idea: Maybe there is a special heaven where fictional characters go when they die. I like that.