When You "Lose" a Character
Developing characters, coming to know them as well as you know yourself, is a wonderful part of writing. Characters can become as dear to an author as friends and family. Sometimes they can be ornery cusses and have their own idea of just
how to behave. Other times they get a grip on your heart, and can become so real to the writer and to readers that they take on a life of their own - sometimes to the detriment of the author's writing and the quality of the books they live in.
These characters are popular, readers love them, and they make the author a success. Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is a case in point. Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's popular protagonist, is another.
Both those authors came to despise their popular protagonists! Sir Arthur tried to kill Sherlock off, having him fall off a cliff in a struggle with the evil Moriarty - then was forced to resurrect him with a pretty ridiculous plot twist to quiet his protesting readers. Agatha Christie described the heroic Poirot as "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep", but felt she had to keep stories about him coming out. These writers probably started out liking their characters, but had to bow to the pressures of success. Doyle found himself flooded with protests from readers who wanted more Sherlock. Agatha Christie felt she had a duty to give the readers what they wanted. Both knew the protagonists that had so caught the reader's imaginations were a guarantee of book sales. It's hard to make money with writing - we can hardly blame them for keeping these characters going long past the "use by" date.
My books concentrate on the development of characters - their journeys through life; how they grow; their loves, losses and triumphs - and their sacrifices. I want my readers to relate to my characters, to feel as if they might meet them somewhere, to recognize parts of themselves within these fictional people.
I never expected to be a series writer, but fell into it naturally with the massive story arc that is covered in the "Big Four" that make up The Prophecy Series - Weaving Man, Love and Sacrifice, Eirdon and The Light At The Top Of The World. There was no way to put that epic tale into a single book - and as it is, the four books are very big babies. So breaking up what was becoming an enormous single volume that would have to be wheeled around on a cart into four single volumes made good sense.
Then, those characters kept growing, and growing and becoming more and more real. They appeal to readers, who become very invested in them. This is a writer's dream - but it makes it very difficult when it's time for a beloved character to leave the stage, to go on to The Light At The Top Of The World.
I once followed a popular detective series with very compelling characters. The author had incredible success, with one bestseller after another. The first five or six books were wonderful. The characters rang true and the reader came to care deeply for the protagonists. But the books followed a strictly chronological sequence. There weren't any "earlier on in the characters' lives" books; there weren't any books that focused on minor characters for a volume or two, with the original protagonists taking secondary roles. It went on in strict time, book after book, until the original characters, who had been in their late thirties to begin with, would have been the world's oldest detectives. It killed the series for me, because it became painfully repetitive and unbelievable. The author tried to launch several other series with no success, and ended up endlessly repeating the same formula, with characters old enough to be in a nursing home carrying out daring feats of physical courage. The books no longer that that ring of truth and were pale approximations of the earlier volumes.
I swore I would not do that. But the payoff is a tough one - because eventually, your characters will die. If they are beloved characters, it hurts.
No-one is immortal. Sooner or later, everyone moves on - and if you're the author of a series that spans more than a lifetime, your characters will need to take their exit.
Needless to say, I've cried over the loss of characters, who have become very real to me and to others. But I owe them that, rather than making them live on as hollow shells of themselves simply for the sake of keeping them in the series.
That's not to say that they can't live on in other stories - prequels or what I refer to as "parallelquels", that run alongside the main story, but showcase further adventures of certain characters. Short stories can also be used to give everyone, including the author, their "fix" of certain beloved characters.
So, if you've cried over characters in The Eirdon Books, I thank you - this lets me know I've succeeded in my goal of creating realistic people that readers can give their hearts to. My stories include all aspects of life, the good and bad, happy and sad, hopeful and hopeless. Positive characters have their failings, negative characters can have their bright spots.
Just like life.