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A Sad Day

About to get into the car this morning to drive to the train station, I saw another car speeding away down the street. I didn’t really get a look at it, because my brain wasn’t quite working due to our cat Cuddles lying in the middle of the road. I won’t – can’t – describe it in detail, but she was alive for maybe another two minutes or so.

Cuddles sleeping

Cuddles sleeping peacefully. R.I.P. Cuddles.

In what seems like a previous life, I was a paramedic and even began to study Medicine for a while before turning to Computer Science. I’ve seen death, I’ve seen dying, I’ve dissected cadavers. I don’t know why my cat’s death upsets me this much. Maybe it’s that it was just so… undignified. I cried like a schoolgirl (not that there’s anything wrong with schoolgirls) before waking the kids and telling them about it.

Cuddles was our daughter’s cat, at least nominally, who named her when we first got her as a tiny fluffy kitten. But in truth she was a family member.

Cuddles Wii

Cuddles “playing” on the Wii Balance Board

The name wasn’t very accurate; she never enjoyed cuddling on our laps for very long except on rare occasions. When she did grace me with her cuddliness, she’d stomp around on chest and belly and legs and crotch, purring while digging in with her claws, and refused to settle down for a minute or two, pushing herself up on her hind legs if necessary to rub herself against anything in range. Then, when she finally did calm down, and I could take my hand off the family jewels and stop trying to extract her claws from my skin and clothes, wondering why they weren’t cut into bloody ribbons, she’d curl up in my lap, and turn every which way so I could scratch her in all the places that needed it. After just another couple of minutes of that, she’d get up, find one of her favourite alone-time spots, and curl up there to sleep. Strangely, it made you feel both abused and honoured. “I’m going to use you to get my attention and my petting,” she’d tell you, “and then I’ll just leave you like a dumped lover. Oh, and you’re going to like it!”

Cuddles The Destroyer

“Take that, paper ad!”

Cuddles The Destroyer

Cuddles The Destroyer with some silly political ad she didn’t agree with.

God, I’ll miss that. And I’m really more of a dog person.

She had the cutest of meows, mixing a purr in with it to make it more of a “prrr’ow!” Our daughter can reproduce that same noise extremely well. When I was hoarse from calling the cat’s name so she’d finally come inside and eat her cat food, thinking her miles away, my daughter would simply “prrr’ow!” in the backyard, and Cuddles would suddenly pop out from somewhere and let herself be carried inside like the queen she was.

Cuddles rolling in blood

Cuddles rolling in the “blood” of a vanquished foe.

Cuddles got along wonderfully with all the other pets we’ve had (after a period of hissing at them to let them know their place, because size has nothing to do with rank in our household), except for our tomcat, Merlin.

Kitten-Cuddles and Chaka

Cuddles as a kitten, playing with Chaka, our other cat back then

She didn’t like him from the start and has never forgiven him (he’s a few years younger) for being playful when she wanted to be left alone. (Even though she did the exact same thing to Merlin’s predecessor, Chaka.) I think Merlin is physically unable to completely retract his claws and playing with him can be… ouchy. So, hard as it was, I’ve chased Merlin out of my office whenever he made another attempt to claim it, and at some point he gave up, allowing it to be Cuddles’ safe haven. Many a night while I was sitting there at my desk, typing away at my story or working on some project or other, or, lately, blogging, she’d curl up on the comfy chair and purr herself to sleep, safe in the knowledge that I’d valiantly defend her from that other nasty tomcat.

Cuddles making friends

“You’ll be my friend, won’t you?” Cuddles and Velvet, some years ago.

Kitten-Cuddles and Velvet

“She doesn’t scare me. I’m keeping her.”

I’m staying home from work today. That’s not an easy decision for me, because I’m an IT contractor, and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. My wife and I went for a long walk with the dogs (this post has a picture of all four pets sleeping…) and talked about how it might’ve been easier or better if she hadn’t lived for those two more minutes, but that we were glad we could be with her in those last few moments. Two of our three kids are battling a cold, so we’re all staying home for a “personal day” today.

Work will still be there tomorrow.

Cuddles won’t.

Planning the perfect murder

If you’re here because of the blog title and you’re some sort of law enforcement type, please go away. I’m not really planning an actual murder. Well, ok, it’s an actual murder, but not an actual person – just a fictional character.

If you’re here because of the blog title and you’re a fan of murder mysteries, please go away. Well, all right, you can stay, but if you expect this post to be about whodunit-type writing, you’ll be disappointed, I’m afraid. I write fantasy at the moment, but I suppose the topic of this post applies to writing in general.

So gather ’round, the Internet is a big space, I’m sure we can squeeze all three of my followers in here.

For reasons I explained previously, I’ve had a stop-start-stop-start relationship with my writing recently. Partially because of time constraints, but also because… well, I’ve been putting off writing the next bit of glue that needs to hold some other pieces together. Not because of writer’s block or anything like that – thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with that. No, for me, that’s usually a sign that there’s something I don’t completely like about where my story is going, or how it’s going there. Consciously or unsubconsciously, I stop myself from doing what I was about to do.

Don’t tell anyone, but I often have some of my best ideas in the shower. I’m a morning person, but only if I have my hot shower to wake me up. Prior to that shower, I’m a grumpy zombie, hardly able to open my eyes. Once I’m in, I wake up and sometimes have some great thoughts. (I apologise if that’s more than you needed to know. I needed to say that for things to make sense. To me, at least; I have to read my posts too, you know. I’m getting to the point now, don’t you worry.)

Anyway, so as I woke up this morning, it struck me that what I needed to do was to kill off one of my characters. On some level, I’ve known that for a few days, but I like… her. (Going with “her” but not admitting it’s a female character. I just don’t want to be continually ambiguous in the next few sentences.)

People die in books all the time, but when I say “killing off a character”, I don’t mean that a writer’s protagonist walks along and suddenly a tree flattens some guy in the background. I mean that one of the major characters, whom a writer has spent some time and effort endearing to his readers, meets an untimely death, the description of which is bound to bring a tear to the eye (or at least a mental “Awww!”) of the emotionally invested reader.

One writer who is well-known for killing off major characters is George R. R. Martin. Incidentally, one of the reasons I like epic fantasy is because the writer can invest some time in endearing multiple characters to the reader, only to have them kick the bucket when it suits the writer or the plot (or not kick the bucket, and the reader will be interested in how the story continues for that character). Shorter books have a harder time evoking that “Awww!” effect, because the only way to get it when a character dies who hasn’t had much screen time (“page time” for books?) is to make it clear that a protagonist is negatively affected by the death, and to hope that the reader’s connection to the protagonist is sufficient to carry that emotion across from the dead-guy-to-protagonist relationship to the protagonist-to-reader relationship.

How do you go about planning the best way to kill off a character?

First, it’s important to remember that the story is more important than the character. As a writer, you tend to form a relationship with characters you’ve created (at least I do), but sometimes you have to create some emotional distance and sacrifice that character to the Story God for the greater good. Then, find a way that character can die, hopefully in the right spot inside the boring-gory-cheesy triangle. I could draw a picture of that, but it would probably just look silly – I’m hoping you’re with me without a visual aid. You don’t want the scene to be boring, but not so overly exciting that it comes across as cheesy. I guess gory could work in some genres, but mostly you want to a) make it unexpected, yet realistic, memorable, yet not too exotic, and b) emphasise the impact this character’s death has on your protagonist(s). For the death to serve your story, it has to lead to the protagonist doing something he would not otherwise have done.

The death is also a great chance to tell the reader more about your supporting cast by describing how they are affected by it. Villify the bad guy by describing how he just smirks, or humanise him by telling readers that he didn’t really want to go that far, or is filled with regrets. Show how the protagonist’s best friend is trying to put on a brave face because she knows how much the dead character meant to him, but inside she’s struggling not to break apart herself.

Have you committed any good fictional murders lately? Know any good tips for writers about how/when/why to kill off characters? Or do you have any “favourite” (good or bad) character deaths that affected you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!