"This ending is boring! I don't feel like it had any meaning!"
If this sounds familiar, congratulations! You're a writer, Harry. Welcome to another episode of:
Ellie Raine's School of Wordcraft and Scribery!
Like most writers I know, my characters are my children.
No matter their personality, their mistakes or accomplishments, I love each one with all my heart and soul—especially the main characters, since their origin stories are usually more fleshed out. And it’s no wonder we think of them as our offspring. We’ve been there since they were born—hell, since before they were even conceived. We watched their parents raise (or abandon) them, watched them grow, watch them stumble on adolescence, held their hand when they reached adulthood and then thrust them into unspeakable challenges that we unleashed upon them in our books. Because, you know, writers are sadistic creatures.
We gave them life, and it’s our job to make them learn something before their story is over. And sometimes, the lesson they learn is the same lesson we, their creators, need to learn as well:
They will die.
Even if their time doesn’t end within the story we set, they will still die after the back cover is closed, at least figuratively. “Lived happily ever after” sounds wonderful, but unless your characters are immortal beings, they obviously don’t continue living. They grow old, they die, and perhaps their children take their place. Your books only captured the highlight of their lives, but not always the end. Not that we don’t think about how they bite the dust. On the contrary, I think we often have no choice but to think about those grim events. Giving them life is the same as starting their deaths, anyway.
And as much as I love “happily ever after,” and wish, wish, WISH my “children” could reach it… it’s not going to happen in their story. They have to let go of that ideal to meet their potential. And as much as it hurts me to say it, so do I.
So, it really is like parenting. The older our children get, the less we can hang on to them. They draw their own paths, they make their own decisions and will fight us if we try to change it. It takes strength to set them loose for college or the working world, and only the strongest parents can accept when it’s time to let them go.
As a writer, it’s painful to realize you have to kill your fictional children. It’s even worse when you have to describe every last detail in full color. But healing them last minute or jerking them out of a ‘terrible dream’ would seem an insult to their sacrifice. At least that’s how it feels for my “kids”. It’s like saying their enlightened moment was an April Fools joke. So, they must die.
I’ve read too many epic stories where the heroes were revived at the last minute or the spear barely missed their hearts by some incredible miracle… when really, they should have let the axe swing.**
I hate, hate, hate having to kill my children.
But by Gods, I must.
**As a side note, I don’t think every hero should be killed at the end of their journey. It depends entirely on the story and what their deaths would mean for those they were close to, vs. what their revival would mean instead. Whichever feels right for the author, really.