Letting go of a character – a short phrase which is easy to write however relating it to a character or world which a writer has created is not very easy at all. In fact it can be quite difficult and emotional. Writers create wonderful worlds, scenes and characters and the need to delete or remove any of these is difficult. It is a process of letting go. To say goodbye to a main character in a story is never easy, having invested time in developing and being part of that character. The decision to let a character go will only come after much deliberation taking into account the impact the removal has on the rest of the story.
I have always found saying goodbye to a character difficult. Many times I will refuse to have a death associated with a main character or to a character which I favour. I lean towards leaving the door open for the possible return of that character at a later stage. Even if the character is never to return, it gives a life to the character to live on in that fictional world I created and they are going about a new life somewhere else! Daft as it might sound, it is a reality!
Writers become their characters in order to understand them and walk in their shoes to see how they would interact in different situations or with other characters. Over the years, I have created many characters - some interesting, fascinating and some which were boring. However I have also found that a good character will transcend story and plot lines, have the ability to interact in all aspects of other characters and storylines due to the scope and depth of the character in addition to the role they play in the overall story. However there are also times when a character just runs its course and there is no more left for it to do. It has been exhausted. When a character reaches this point, the process of letting it go becomes a little easier – its time ends naturally.
This post is meant to reflect my thoughts on letting go of a character however the following are some techniques or options which you can use for letting the beloved character go. Letting go does not necessarily mean killing the character, however there are times when it is necessary for it to be credible for example if you are writing war/crime stories and nobody dies, it might seem a little odd! Environment will have an impact on how your characters will depart.
Spin off: If the character is strong enough, why not write a spin off giving the character a new lease of life in a different story. Introduce the character to new characters allowing for expansion and scope, developing the character even more. I have experimented with this option.
Prequel/Sequel: Write a second book or screen play series, continuing onwards with a new or existing story. Use the foundation created for your character and build on it. Even jump forward in time and develop your character in old age. Go back in time and develop your character further from an earlier period in their life. I personally like this option as it creates a whole other world for the character that has never been explored before. This is a favourite option of mine as I additionally love the process of screen writing and a character can be developed and written for in different ways.
Standalone: When a character is to depart why not write a standalone novella or script revolving around that character following their departure or during another period in their life. This is an option I am thinking of taking on for the character of Susanna Westby of the Landed Estate novel exploring the twenty years she spent in India, which would be unrelated to her time in Ireland, where the novel is set.
My final point to mention is not to forget the readers. Readers might not share my decisions in letting go of a character. Rogue, loyal, lovable and dishonest characters are loved by the reader who may become upset on seeing someone go, especially concerning an ongoing series. Listen to the feedback on what the readers have to say which will become a part of the decision making process when it’s time for letting that character go. It’s never easy however it is something which has to be faced at some stage in the writing process.
A reminder that you can download your free Character Development Sheet to assist in building a round and detailed character by clicking HERE.
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