This is an excellent post with recommendations about writing crime. Thank you so much for your article, Connie.
I recently began reading a murder mystery where the author used a mushroom to kill the first victim. That’s where this book fell apart—the idea was good, but the facts and execution weren’t.
Using a mushroom stroganoff to poison him was a poor choice because fungi is an undependable weapon unless you are an expert. Also, individually, one mushroom may be more or less poisonous than another of the same kind, rather like people are. Judging how many one would need to kill a three-hundred-pound man takes more thought than I am capable of plotting out.
Also, it was stroganoff, which is basically beef and mushrooms in a sour cream sauce. This author danced over the fact that serving the food at this dinner party would have been a tactical nightmare. It would have been nearly impossible to ensure the intended victim got the poison mushrooms and no one else did, which is how this murder was written.
Agatha Christie knew that and regularly poisoned entire dinner parties, literarily speaking. Her murderers made everyone at the table sick but only the intended victim actually died.
This particular mystery was set in Scotland, and I don’t know how poisonous their mushrooms are, but I think that logic would hold true there as well as it does here in the Pacific Northwest.
If I hadn’t been on several nature walks with Ellen King Rice, a wildlife biologist and amateur mycologist who writes well-plotted mushroom thrillers, I would have accepted the slightly contrived fatal dinner as written and focused on the other failings of this novel.
This experience reinforced my belief that readers are often more knowledgeable than we authors are. E-readers can do the research just by highlighting the word and hitting search.
“There are two kinds of people who sit around all day thinking about killing people…mystery writers and serial killers. I’m the kind that pays better.”
― Richard Castle ―
I’m not a mystery writer, and I keep hoping not too many of my characters in my book will end up dead. Let’s say, the one or other tragic death is barely to avoid, but I’m working on it. Now, by thinking about it: as a fantasy writer I do have the chance to kill as many of the bad guys as I want; does that count too?
Above I purposely used the term “too many of MY characters…”. When I started to write my series I knew one main character. The more I worked on this woman, and with her, the more I got a liking of her. She is someone special. At first, I didn’t know exactly where she came from and who she is. By now I know her inside and out, and her complexity, stubbornness and unique good heart made me love her like a very, very good friend.
As I continued writing more and more characters showed up. I had the chance to work with them as well, develop them, know them better with each book and each one of them grew on me. I’m currently working on book seven and eight in the series, and unfortunately, I know one of the characters I love so much will have to die. I knew it two books ago already, but I tried to ‘sneak’ around it, well knowing that I’m trying to defer the inevitable death of one of my favorite characters. The question isn’t “who needs to die?” The question now is: “How is this character going to die?”
What am I supposed to do? Yes, of course, I can write about an unthinkable ferocity to kill my character. Would this be a nice thing to do to one of my favorites? Of course not. But I’m a writer, and I’m afraid death isn’t a nice and pretty issue, to begin with. I guess, the main thing at this moment will be that it matches the book and fits the story! In a moment like this I’m not supposed to be the protector of my characters but the writer who paints a story with words; a writer who works with the characters, the situations, the opponents, the protagonists and antagonists she created!
Does that make me feel any better? I’m afraid not. It’s heartbreaking to even think of my character gone. No matter how I’m going to manage it – wait… I should say, how the antagonist is going to kill my character, I’ll be heartbroken. I had so many plans with this particular character, and that’s how it will end? The answer is yes. Unfortunately, that’s how it is going to end. I have a pretty good idea of how the killing will happen.
But there is one thought I can barely get right of. It won’t be the cruelness of the antagonist, the torture, the pain, the sweat and blood, the hope to be saved in the last minutes; it won’t be the eerie laughter of the opponent, the sharply metal forged blade that will turn my character’s death into a horrible murder. No matter how horrifying and inhuman I create the antagonist, how cruel, how sadistic and incredibly gruesome it will be, the murderer of my character is going to be me.
Am I going to drown in guilt, cry in my pillow and drink my tears? We shouldn’t get overly dramatic here. I’m a writer, not a ten-year-old girl who accidentally broke her Barbie doll. I create worlds, existences, characters, protagonists, and antagonists, but most of all, I create gripping and exciting stories. And once in a while death goes with it.
I think that’s the only parallel from my stories to real life: death belongs to life. And sometimes, if we don’t get ‘rid’ of old stuff, how can we make room for something new?
It took me a while to decide which one of my characters will have to go. But I won’t sink into depression. I know, there’s room now for someone new.
How do you handle the killing of one of your characters? Do you feel like you lost someone you know? Or do you even belong to those who create the antagonist as your ex-partner and feel somehow a slight malicious glee to do what you couldn’t when you were still angry in real life? Let me hear your thoughts, I’m curious.
This is a short story, written by Juliette Kings, which I find very entertaining and decided to share. Juliette has a great blog which I follow, maybe you’d like to peek? You will find more entertaining stories.