On Grief and Killing Characters.

In response to Craig’s post on Friday, I wrote a lovely long comment about grief and character’s perception of it and so on, but for some reason WordPress refused to post it! So, today, you’re going to get an expanded version of it.

Firstly, I wanted to address the point Craig made about how for a book to have a certain level of drama, there must be a death of some sort. Up to a point, I must disagree. While the idea of death and the reactions and feelings that it provokes does provide a wealth of material (and certainly a certain level of drama), I don’t think that authors must put one in if they feel the drama is getting a bit thin on the ground.

I think deaths in books also depends on what genre you are writing. If it’s a murder mystery, then of course you must have one (and if any of the murder mysteries I’ve read are anything to go by, more than one!) or possibly in a war novel. This was something I struggled with quite a lot, having written a war novel and noticing 1) my main character didn’t ever seem to kill anyone (he is an infantry soldier on the front line) and 2) nobody important really died directly because of the war.

In my novel, I kill off my favourite character. Originally, he was thought dead, but it turned out that he wasn’t really, but after reading it again and again I felt it was all a bit too convenient. It would be unrealistic if my main character was to get through the war without losing someone fairly important to him. Because of this I had to consider how he would react and make it appropriate for his situation. As he is already pretty beside himself due to his mental condition, the death of his best friend sends him completely to breaking point.

When writing about grief it is important to consider the different ways that grief manifests itself in people. Different genders may react differently (though if this statement plays up to gender stereotypes, I do apologise), people of different ages may also react in different ways. There are also many cultural variations to how people manage and handle grief.

One thing that is interesting to consider is how perceptions of grief and the way of dealing with it have changed over time, and the way an author writes grief must change depending on the era in which the book is set. For example, mourning in the Victorian era is very different to mourning in the modern day.

An easy thing when writing about grief is that it manifests itself in different ways in different people. Characters may react in a completely different way than the writer would. Drawing on their own experiences bring realism to the work, but the fact that everyone experiences grief in a unique way means that you can never be accused of your characters grieving in the “wrong way”. Who’s to say that someone doesn’t handle grief by going out and buying a new pair of shoes, for example.

When writing the scene in which Laurie (my main character) finds out his best friend is dead, I had to think about, not how I would feel or react, but how Laurie would. It is his story, I have to show his feelings.


Writing is going all right – I’ve put in the piece I edited for my dissertation and didn’t change very must so the wordcount has shot up quite a lot. Next Tuesday is the first day of Nanowrimo, so I’ll be keeping you updated on my wordcount with that as well, having finally come up with a plot!


Sometimes I think I have too many projects!


Current word count: 50, 212
Currently reading: The Absolutist – John Boyne




Filed under Lil

2 responses to “On Grief and Killing Characters.

  1. kenounirenashin

    Nice post – a good reminder that it’s our character’s story, not our’s and whilst we can use our own experiences to help us write, we have to bear in mind that our characters are not us.

  2. jtotheptothe

    Yes, our characters are not us Kenouirenashin; but are instead — a part of us.

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