Sunday, November 27, 2011

Letting Go

Malick Bowens and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa, 1985 © Universal Pictures Ltd.

I have this scene I'm writing in the current work-in-progress, and it's taking me a long time to complete. I'm not avoiding it, exactly, but I know I'm taking more time than I should, and only yesterday I realized it's because this is the last scene for a character I've come to really like.

No, I'm not killing him off, but it's still a goodbye.

I'm not good with goodbyes, whether real life or fictional, and in a film a farewell breaks my heart even more than a death, sometimes. (All I have to do is look at that picture above and I hear Malick Bowens's voice saying: "Then you must make this fire very big..." and I go all to pieces...)

The rational side of my brain knows this character needs to leave, needs to move on, so the story can move on as well. And I will get to see him again in revisions and rewrites, and when the book's finished and published I know I can visit him there in the pages whenever I want.

But the rational side of my brain isn't writing the book; that's the problem. And so I've been slowing down...finding small jobs that need a line here, a paragraph there...catching up on my research.

It won't work, of course. Either later today or tomorrow I'll write his last scene, and I'll probably cry (which is good for the book, in a way), and then that will be that.

But I never like saying goodbye to a character.

What about you? Do you have the same problem, as writers or readers? How well do you cope with goodbyes?

(Don't forget to come back Thursday, for Julie's post.)


  1. There's a wrench, absolutely. It's hard to let a character go, especially if he's been a point of view character. I just did that on Friday, wrote the last scene from a secondary character's pov, and the last scene before he walks out of the story to go his way. He was good company. I'll miss him. Even though, as you say, there's editing to be done, and perhaps he'll wander into another story one day. This is his second appearance in one of mine.

    But there's nothing quite like the fellowship of a first draft, between author and character, is there?

  2. Oh yes, I relate to this! In one book I realized that a very important character was going to have to die. It took me three days to get my courage up to write that scene and I wrote it through a veil of tears. I still wish he could have lived but the story demanded otherwise.

    Lori, I love your comment about the fellowship of the first draft, when it's just you and the characters.

  3. I too hate goodbyes, both real and imaginary ones! I always cry. I guess the only consolation is that as an author, you could (if you wanted to) give that particular character their own story at some point - at least that's what I tell myself in order to cheer up. I'm sure that emotion is great though, if you're sad yourself, hopefully it will really tug at the reader's heartstrings!

  4. Lori, you're right, there's a very personal connection between writer and character in that first draft, before anyone else gets a look-in.

    And Maggie, I know what you mean -- I had to kill a character once who'd been created to be killed, and I knew that all the time I was writing him, but the more time I spent with him the fonder I became of him, and writing his death scene was absolute agony. Hated it.

    Christina, I always cry, too. Which makes the timing of this writing session tricky, since I pick my children up from school at lunch and don't want all their teachers seeing me with puffy red-rimmed eyes...

  5. In my current work in progress, I'm facing killing off an important character. I don't want to do it. Not just because I enjoy razzing my favourite author about when *she* did it in a particular book and I don't want to seem like a hypocrite, but because I like this guy. A lot. And it's going to hurt.

    I'm a wimp. So I'm going to clean my desk right now. And maybe someone else's. Because ... you know ...

  6. Karen, let me just say: 'Ah-HA!' in my most "see-there-what-did-I-tell-you" sort of voice :-)

    And of course I won't think you're a hypocrite, silly. If anything, I'll feel relieved that now you understand how truly rotten I did feel.

  7. By the way, if you're looking for a desk to clean, mine's very nearly buried at the moment...

  8. I always hate finishing a book for this very same reason. Even if all of the characters I love have a happy ending, I won't be with them again in the same way. I love your idea of a 'fellowship', Lori. That's it exactly.

  9. It is so wild that you would post this because I purposedly slowed down my reading of "The Rose Garden" because I figured out about half way through that when I was done, I would have to say goodbye, and I just was enjoying everyone too much. I finished it last week, by the way and loved everything about it. You always manage to surprise me, as very few authors can.

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