Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Downside of Murder

from James Grippando

I killed a boy. And with apologies to Katy Perry, I didn't like it.

No, I'm not talking about Paul. He's just taking the day off after hoofing all over the Miami Book Fair this past weekend, and I'm filling in. I'm talking about the angst every writer feels when the time comes to knock off a character you really, really like. I'm there.

I remember how I felt as a teenager, watching "The Godfather." Of course, that was the kind of story in which anyone could buy it at any moment. Even so, I practically went into mourning over the death of Sonny (James Caan) when he pulled up to that toll booth and looked like a bloody magnet for machine-gun fire.

I'm about halfway through the first draft of my 2011 release. It's a Jack Swyteck novel (this will be #9 in the series), so there are plenty of recurring characters. I outline my plots to a point, but there are always twists and turns that come in the writing. Yesterday, it occurred to me that it was the end of the road for someone who has known Jack for over fifteen years.

Of course I'm not going to tell you who it is. We talk about the writing process here, not plot spoilers. (And if anyone writes to tell me that I spoiled the Godfather for them by saying that Sonny dies, I'm going to kill you in my next novel).

Killing off a character you like can be tough work. Is it the story that dictates? Or, as a writer, do you consider how fans will react. Or do you even put it out there for a vote, the way readers got to vote on whether Batman should have a sidekick? We all know how that worked out for poor Robin.

Years ago in Esquire magazine I read an interview of William Goldman, who wrote the amazing screenplay for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." That final scene where Butch And Sundance make a desperate run for it, guns blazing, is one of the longest sentences ever written into a screenplay.

Goldman's explanation (as I recall) was that he was killing off his heroes, damn it, and he didn't want you to lift your eyes and look away. I guess I can relate on some level. No, I'm not killing off Butch and Sundance, but when a character has been around for fifteen years (even if he isn't a major character), you feel the pain. It's the downside of murder. Now you know there is one.

Paul will be back next week!


  1. OH NO!! As a true fan, I look forward to the new book and hopefully I will forget that someone will die. However, I'm sure it will be another great one.

  2. First, I LOVE the title of this post. And--oh boy--be prepared for mail from your fans if the person in question is one of their favorite characters. You'll need another assistant or two to manage the grief. I remember what happened when Elizabeth George killed off one of her regulars. All hell broke loose. Maybe you should just leave him/her in a coma.

  3. Didn't Doyle kill Sherlock Holmes then bring him back?

    Long time rumor that John D. MacDonald wrote "Black Shroud for McGee" to be published after author's death.....but apparently untrue unless it's under wraps somewhere.

    Thanks Jim.

    Miami is fine! Heat game tonight. Lincoln Road last night and ocean walk on South Beach. Just like old times.

  4. If it must be done, do it quickly.


  5. James O. Born11/17/2009 11:21 AM

    Its hard to kill main characters, good or bad, but it usually makes for a good book,