Sunday, September 7, 2014

To Die or Not To Die...

When a Character Must Simply Go.
by Hilde Garcia

I have been working on my young adult novel for a few years now and just when I thought I was at the finish line, something tugged at me, but it was hard to pin point exactly what it was.

I began a major revision, knowing that I would be happy with the outcome even before I started.  As I played it out in my mind, it was really sharp and strong, except for this one small problem.

A character that simply would not die. 

In fact, I teach 5th and 6th grade and during our Language Arts class, I showed my students older drafts of my novel. They all marveled at how long I had been writing some of my stories and some noticed that it was longer than they had been alive.

We also noticed an old synopsis that stated that my main character’s father died in an earlier draft.  Hmmm…  so I had been down this road before and how I got lost and ended up back at this point, I have no idea, but it helped solidify my resolve.

I pulled the trigger.

In a very teary scene, my character’s father dies while on a dangerous journey on the ocean with his daughter, leaving her to survive by herself. That’s quite an obstacle for her, but as I wrote the chapter where she finds out he is dead, it wrote itself.  It flowed and it felt right. The chapter read the way I had originally envisioned it, but somehow convinced myself that HE, the dad character, had to be in the story.

I was taking an intensive writer’s workshop with MaggieStiefvater during the SCBWI Summer Conference and she struck a chord.  “If you don’t find a character interesting, don’t write about them.”  And I had been forcing myself to like the father, write about the father, give him a backstory, but in the end, he didn’t need to be there, it wasn’t his story.

Also, Linda Sue Park, during that same day, pointed out that sometimes you have to see what is necessary.  In an exercise, she had us delete an entire chapter- well a section of a chapter- and then try to recreate it from memory. 

“If it was really important, you will be able to recreate it,” she said to us.  When I tried it, I couldn’t recreate it. It made me wonder just how much of my novel didn’t need to be there for me to tell my story.  In fact, one editor on a panel during the Conference said, “If it’s over 100,000 words, I am not going to read it.”  This made me think a bit.  Could I say it with less words, less scenes, less characters?  Maybe I had characters duplicated and they could be morphed into one. 

Of course, we had all saved our precious chapter elsewhere, as a security net, just in case, but the exercise was beneficial.  Sometimes we are redundant in our writing, duplicating characters, adding details and “stuff” that doesn’t need to be there.

These authors enlightened my way of looking at my novel.

Editors look for a tight manuscript and many of the techniques these authors shared at the intensives were extremely vital when you get to that level of polish before you send your work out into the universe.

SO I killed him. The dad. He is gone, caput, rode out into the sunset.

Now what?

Well, time to revise every chapter that followed and erase his existence.

The pen is the mighty sword after all.


  1. I'm sorry Dad had to go,but I understand why.. Can't wait to read the latest version.

  2. I think you're brave and strong to eliminate characters. Not sure I could do that. I may have enough characters. I just have trouble getting my word count to novel length. Brava to you and best wishes. Penny (

  3. You can legally kill anyone with the mighty Quill sword Susan. With your magic pen you can save the world, kill the intruder or run away with the stable boy. With pen in hand you rule!

    I haven't written a novel yet, just a self help nonfiction for adults. The rest for children. I know there, I can always say it with less words. The tighter the better for children's books..

  4. Excellent post and just having done much the same thing, I sympathize!

  5. Pssst...hey you...yeah you homes...I like need help. I'm a dude in you know who's story. He wants to cap my ass. He's all like I'm loco literary and shit and can't have no cholos in my book. Help out a homie huh? Meet me at...Oh hello Mr. F. How are you today? I am fine. No shit...I mean No sir, I am practicing writing compound sentences. What? No don't read that....aarggghhh....NOT THE DELETE


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