Death Enters the Story

I just finished mapping out the last fifty pages of the new Katrina novel, Jazzy. I don’t begin writing with an outline; I begin with a character and a situation. As I write, I jot down a bare-bones outline of what I think is coming next. Often this turns out to be untrue. Sometimes I go back and outline what I’ve written, to see what I’ve written. Here, at the end, the outline takes on a more detailed imagining. In these last fifty pages of Jazzy, elements of what I initially thought would happen remain, but they’re all slightly different. The one hard fact of the ending remains the same: if this is to be a Katrina novel, death must enter the story.
I HATE writing death. I like for death to be the emotional triggering event–in the past. Read my novels and short stories and you will see death over and over again. I attribute this to my daddy dying when I was three years old, suddenly, tragically, graphically. Haunted by that, I’ve explored the death of mothers, several cousins, a sister, strangers, an uncle, a grandfather, boyfriend, wife, the near-death of a nephew, and the death of too many fathers to count.
Only once or twice have I written the death of a character who lived and breathed when I began the story. In one novel, I was so averse to having a young cousin die, I had him run off and become a Jesus freak instead.
All of which means the character in Jazzy, of whom I am extremely fond, must not die in vain. The hard part, of course, will be when I return to the beginning of the story for the editing process. Now I will know the character is going to die. Everything I write about him will be tinged with poignancy. It will be hard going. Death always is.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

death, hurricane katrina, last fifty pages, novel, outline, writing death

Comments (5)

  • I think your point about havng to include dying as a part of the story of Katrina is faithful to the reality of that story. That reality may be hard to stay with, though because there has been so much mythology about what happened during and after Katrina.
    I can hardly wait to read the finished product, but at the rate you are going, you will finish before I get back from Alaska.

  • I struggle with writing death, too. I think you made a great point about editing and the difference between writing a character and writing a character you know is going to die. It’s like real life–we don’t know when someone’s turn will come up and we don’t have the opportunity to appreciate the poignancy. That comes in memories, looking back with 20-20 hindsight. You have this opportunity in the novel, to lay down those moments which will grow large in your characters’ (and readers’) memories.

  • Poignancy is a hard emotion for me. To deliberately create it asks a lot. But that’s the position I’ve put myself in. Such is life . . . and death. I will try to think of it as you characterized it: an opportunity.

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