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Guest Post with Mitchell Lehnert

One of my longtime writer buds and a fellow Herding Cats Press & MimosaThursday podcast darling, Mitch joins the blog today to talk about killing characters and why sometimes it just needs to happen. Hope you enjoy!

In the Defense of Killing Your Characters

-Mitchell Lehnert

It’s become a joke to ask how many people die in a story I have written. In the novel I am currently querying, it’s a joke when side characters die. I kill without mercy. I take love interests, best friends, and lovable sidekicks and drop them into a shredder.

In my last short story for the Clichés for a Cause anthology (which is on sale now on Amazon!) I made it a point not to kill any characters. Seeing as how my last two were the opposite of such.

But I don’t kill for fun. I don’t kill people because it’s an easy way to wrap up plot (except that one time I did). I do it to prove a point, and I strongly suggest you try it to.

Death is a finality. It is truly “The End” on our world. No one can be certain what happens next, and while many religions have ways of coping with death, it is that fear of the unknown that brings about the sadness of losing someone.

The hardest part, I think, is coming to terms with the idea that we are all going to die someday. I realized it when I was 11. I was lying in bed one night, my thoughts drifting as I stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling, and out of the darkness, it hit me. I was going to die. Not at that very second, but someday, this adventure called life would be over and I would be gone from it.

It terrified me. I ran downstairs and told my parents that I didn’t want to die, and I cried. They reassured me and sent me off to bed with a hit of Nyquil to make sure I properly passed out without another panic attack.

When I was 13, it happened again. I remembered that dread of a looming death. My parents rolled their eyes because they had already had the conversation with me and sent me back to bed. I stayed up for hours, my heart pounding, my palms sweating. It scared me.

It still scares me.

When I was 19, I went to wake my mother up one afternoon after she slept in on a Sunday. She had died in her sleep of a heart attack at 42. It was the worst day of my life.

And death, it seems, creeped into my writing even more than it had from my fear of it.

It became a solid theme in almost everything I wrote. I wrote tales about robotic children dying. I wrote about a dying man choosing how he would die instead of his cancer. I wrote about a man finding a dead body in his office’s bathroom. Death was everywhere.

And I know why it’s common for me. I have experienced death straight on. I have seen my mother, dead in her bed, her body cold and hard, her eyes shut forever. I have experienced atrial fibrillation, where my heart beats at almost 200 beats a minute because it can't seem to keep the rhythm of life going. I have feared the finality of death since I was 11 years old.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, and that’s why I write about it. Death takes things away from us so quickly, so suddenly, it feels like that person was almost never there. You treasure those memories, those smells, those tiny instances that remind you so closely of the person who is gone.

It’s what makes us human, and in the end, there are two things that bind us all together as a species: life and death. We have all been alive, and we will all leave it. Whether it’s in a bang, a whimper, a long drawn out experience, or a small slip, that’s up to fate.

So I implore you. Kill a character. Kill a great character. Explore the themes that are death. What would your main character do if their mentor suddenly passed away? What about their enemy? What about a stranger they have only just met?

Death makes us all human in the end, and having your characters experience it too will make them even more alive.

You can find Mitchell infrequently blogging on his website or find him frequently screaming on his twitter

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