Killing Off a Major Character
In a gathering dust “I wanna be a Women’s Rights Activist” WIP I considered killing off the major character. Which would have made her an unsung martyr, her struggles useless. Coming to grips with her self-inflicted demons was more 20th Century than suicide or murder. I also considered killing off a substantial supporting character, but even the most cleverly disguised Fairy Godmothers are unkillable. I have the feeling she would have jumped off the page and kicked my ass if I’d tried.
I have a piece now where the main character seems to be a big chunk of money. Two big chunks of money. I have considered making one chunk counterfeit, much to everyone’s dismay. An therein lies the possible mechanism for turning the story and the bad guys inside out. Maybe. Death to half the money!
There’s more than one way to lose a character, major or minor. I open a book with the main character getting a descriptive presentation of his father’s death on an offshore platform. A little later his mother takes off in a little red sports car with a greeting card designer. Two Firestarter hitmen end up being fed to alligators by a successful businesswoman. Killing off characters is more about timing and surprise, I think. Like I never saw it coming in Tishomingo Blues.
Now, let’s be totally honest. I like happy endings, even in crazy capers. There are enough stories we all hold about old friends with four personalities who wake up one day and blow their brains out, ex high school cheerleaders who can’t get enough Oxy, the girl in your English class who never came home from a Rolling Stones concert, the frat party rape victim who did a swan dive from her dorm window, the crazy crack head who raped the baby sitter, filled her vagina with lighter fluid and lit it. After forty years I asked a friend whatever happened to members of the hometown crew and learned of unimaginable outcomes for regular kids. I still hear this one lost a child in a gunfight with police, that one lost one to drugs, how those with promise and pocket money who mangled their lives recovered and survived only to die alone and lie undiscovered in their big house for weeks. Things more horrible than I could ever write, or wish to write.
How easy it would be to kill off a tragic character. To recreate Romeo and Juliet on motorcycles, to write an existential tome questing meaning in the meaninglessness of a life poorly experienced, tragically lived. Not for me.
At the beginning of this I mentioned the would-be feminist. I fell into a scene where I found the opportunity for something more substantive and illustrative than waste. A good thing, because believe me, I was about to throw her off a bridge into the river Cam or get killed by human traffickers if she didn’t pull her head out.
… “Run away, yet again, with unfinished work and an unexplainable child, or worse, a death sentence disease? Seventeen ninety-two, please, Ms. Collings.”
“Mary Wollstonecraft. A Vindication of the Rights of Women?”
“Definition by profession, not partner. Who we are, not who we marry.”
“Overly simplistic but suitable, for now. However, forget the work, study the woman and see the loss. In the end, she married an anarchist just to quiet the storm of her life, had another child immediately, and promptly quit this Earth. She was chastised and ignored for over a century because of poor choices and a taste for flamboyant men. An incredible waste of life and time.”
“But she wrote –”
“What she wrote is less important to me than who she was. And more importantly who she could have been. We don’t need any more well-spoken, well-intentioned passionate but foolish feminist casualties, Ms. Collings. What good are you to me? To us? As Wollstonecraft delivered the bastard child of a foreign charlatan into the home of an anarchist you may do the same because you’re intelligent and attractive and have some good reviews? Or as you might continue to behave with less sense than a stone path into a bog in your quest to spend valuable time with sketchy, depthless men who have no comprehension of your ideals or your heart? Who will take you to museums and high tea and fawn over you? The inevitability of those behaviors continued will make you an inexcusable waste of my time and Erskine’s love. When you see the gifts of Wollstonecraft, see the tragedy as well. Gender studies isn’t all flag waving and chants and posters of heroines in parlor picture books, Ms. Collings. It is full of the tragedy and misunderstanding and confusion that reside at the very core of what being female has meant since the beginning of time.”
The baseboard heat radiators thumped occasionally, Erskine the Labrador snored with a slow, airy rhythm. Deanna pulled her arm out from under Erskine, wiggled her toes in the lumberjack socks.
“I guess I should get up and get my notebook.”
“That was today’s session, Ms. Collings. ‘The Hope of Feminism as Tragedy.’ Let the light from the windows become longer and your toes warmer and show that dog your elbow when he snores. Tea will be served in just under two hours. Until then I want you to think of your home and the young man who understands how your clothes should fit. Of Mary Wollstonecraft’s life and how her behavior left us all an impoverished legacy that could have been so much more brilliant. Of your own potential that you are trying to usurp from yourself and how your journey has led you to be in this room. For tomorrow afternoon you will have those thoughts prepared for me in six to ten pages.”
“Yes ma’am,” Deanna yawned. ‘Full sheet typed. None of your loopy longhand in a composition booklet nonsense’.”
“Perhaps there is hope for you yet, Ms. Collings.”
And hope is something we’re short of in entertainment these days.
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