My friend David told me this week that J.K. Rowling wrote the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while she was still working on The Prisoner of Azkhaban. Last night, instead of working on chapter 12 again (I'm about halfway through it, but it's already over 4,000 words so some cutting will have to be done), I decided to write chapter 16, the last chapter, because I knew exactly how I wanted it to end.
Instead, I sat down, opened my laptop, and promptly killed a major character.
Oh my God, I thought. Can I do that?
I can, of course, and in fact did. But now the ending I knew I wanted so exactly is... different. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just a different one. Maybe this was the ending I was aiming for all along and I could only see its shape once I got there. I've outlined this novel in more detail than the last one—to say nothing of the first novel I wrote, which will never see the light of day. (You're welcome.)
But still, wow. This death was unexpected. It even made me a little verklempt. Is my reaction a good sign? That, I'm not so sure about. When I go back and revise, I'll have to cast a particularly unsympathetic eye on this passage. Of course, given that I've killed a character, you could argue I'm already pretty damn unsympathetic.
It's a common worry of mine, that I'm too nice to my characters. Maybe this is me trying to prove to myself that I'm not. Plus, the shape of the story seemed to require it.
What about you? Are you ever too nice to your characters? What do you do when you catch yourself at it?