I’ve been bogged down at nearly the end of this novel for a while. I had thought, once I’d finally written the scenes where several of the characters die, that my difficulty finishing would be over.
It was a struggle writing those scenes. I was literally crying while writing one. I’ve opined many times before that in order to write a character convincingly, there’s a part of you that has to believe the character is real. There’s some neuroscience to indicate that the part of our brain from which emotions and gut reactions originate literally cannot tell the difference between real people we know, and ficticious characters we become attached to. So it made sense, when (for plot purposes) some of my non-villain characters needed to die, that it would be upsetting.
In wrapping up the plot, some of the bad guys need to make a similar exit, and I find myself just as conflicted about writing those scenes. Again, it makes sense in that, in order to make them interesting characters, I have to see them as well-rounded people. They aren’t just bad for badness sake—they have reasons they believe that what they’re doing is justified.
But I can also see that it’s not just that I empathize with them. There is more than one kind of finality, here. Once I finish them off, once I complete this conflict and move to the denouement, there’s no turning back. Oh, yes, as the author, so long as the book hasn’t been published, I can go back and change things to go a completely different way. If I really want to, I can comepletely rewrite the entire book.
But… Once I actually write the scene, it’s harder. If the scene works, if it feels real as I write it, I’ve committed to this sequence of events as a viable way for the story to unfold. I can revise it, yes, but there will always be part of me that knows it could have gone this way. And unless an alternate scene that I think of gets written, and unless it feels as solid when I write it, the first version way will seem like the more likely option, the more real option.
At least as real as a fictional narrative can get.
So, as much as part of me is reluctant to kill off these next five characters slated for a big defeat, there is another part of me that’s just as reluctant to commit. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” a voice whispers from my subconscious. “There’s still time to go another way.”
The problem is, if I give in to this impulse for too long, it will become even more tempting to go back and undo a few things. “Why does that innocent character have to die?” The voice will ask. “Why does any of this have to happen?”
On one level, it’s my story and I can change anything I want.
On a completely different level, I’m its author, and it deserves to be told the best it can be. It’s fiction, but all fiction is about making sense of the world, of finding meaning in events big or small, profound or mundane, pleasant or unpleasant.
Contrary to what some will tell you, a fiction writer’s job is not to lie. A writer’s job is to tell the truth. And to tell it the best we can at the time.
So, I have to stop equivocating, stop spinning excuses for avoiding the tough part, and I need to tell this story, this discovery, this truth.