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Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus

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Writing Question and Book Recs

misslynx asked how do you handle having to write bad things happening to characters you like? I'm working on a novel right now and one of the things I'm wrestling with is that a certain point, a character I'm quite fond of is going to have to die, and I really don't want him to. But it has to happen for plot reasons. Intellectually I'm fine with it, and understand that good stories often include tragedies as well as triumphs, that it would probably weaken the story if I found some way to avoid killing him, etc. But emotionally, I'm having a hard time facing up to it, and keep avoiding writing that scene. Any advice?

I've found it hard too, even if I've known that character is going to die from the beginning. In some ways I think it's a good thing: if you're emotionally engaged with the character, the reader is more likely to be emotionally engaged with them. I don't think there is anything you can do to make it easier.

If I have to write a scene that's difficult for me emotionally, I notice that it will sometimes take four or five drafts for me to really get it where it needs to be. I did that recently with a scene in the book I just finished. The scene needed to be horrific, and it took me about four drafts to get it to the level of horror I wanted.


Just finished reading Ran Away by Barbara Hambly. This is the latest book in her Benjamin January series, set in 1830s New Orleans. January is a free black surgeon and musician, and he fights crime. This is a great historical mystery series which I've enjoyed for a long time, and I really liked this one, too. In this one, a rich Turkish visitor to New Orleans is accused of strangling two of his concubines and throwing the bodies out a window. But Ben knew the man when he lived in Paris, and is certain he would never have done it. Solving the mystery forces Ben to confront his memories of his first wife Ayasha, who died in Paris, and how much he still misses her despite how happy he is with Rose. I love these characters.

I'm about to start reading Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, which is a sword and sorcery fantasy adventure about Doctor Adoulla, ghul hunter, and I'm really looking forward to it.


If you missed it yesterday, I posted a new free short story, a prequel to The Cloud Roads on my web site: Adaptation. It's the story of how Chime turned into a warrior.

Other short stories set in the Three Worlds on my site are: The Almost Last Voyage of the Wind-ship Escarpment, which is about a different set of characters, and The Forest Boy, which is another prequel, about Moon as a young boy.

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I'm about to start reading Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

That's up next for me, too. :-)

I agree with you, Martha, regarding misslynx's query, that it bodes well for her that killing off a character is difficult. I put off writing the most horrific scene of my work for weeks. When I finally wrote it, I did it fast. The instant I finished I just started to sob. I got up, put on my coat, and walked. Being alone in nature is one of my grieving techniques, and I realized I was doing just that: grieving. Subsequently, it took many drafts to get the scene right, because of the avoidance and haste of the first draft. Writers should give themselves the time and space - and permission - to mourn their literary tragedies.

If I know I am going to "kill" a character in my story, I typically write that first and put it aside...put it out of my mind, so to speak. That way I've also written the first draft of the scene and everything I wanted in it is there; sans depth. When I arrive at the scene again I touch it up with the aspects of the character I grew to love. Even for villians. People love to hate them, so they love to see them fall.

I often find myself slowing down as the dreaded scene approaches.

I recommend not writing them just before bed.

I know you saw my review. I think its going to work very well for you.

Though, if I might toot your horn, Wheel of the Infinite certainly did the "Non-northwest European" based fantasy thing years before this new trend...

Yeah, but I've gotten used to the fact that everything I did before 2011 has been pretty much forgotten. :)

Thanks very much for the advice (and to the other commenters who tackled my question as well)! It's definitely reassuring to know that me getting attached to my characters that way is not necessarily a bad thing, but might hopefully mean the readers will click with them as well.

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