HALLIE EPHRON: I feel for the writers of Downton Abbey and The Good Wife. They found out that their hunky male supporting actors were not signing up for another season.
Instead of letting them go gentle into that good night, both series killed the characters off. In Downton, Matthew went out in a car crash after visiting his newborn son. Will Gardner went out in a hail of bullets in the courtroom, shot by his own client. Both deaths: wrong place, wrong time. Leaving fans stunned, Lady Mary and Alicia Florrick grieving, and the shows' writers scrambling.
Fortunately our fictional characters can't up and decide they don't want to be in our next novel. But what if they could? What if Peter Wimsey's Harriet Vane had announced she'd had enough. Or Spenser's Susan? Or Stephanie Plum's Joe Morelli?
Can you even imagine: What if one of your main characters, the love interest for example, suddenly telling you he's had enough? What kind of havoc would it wreak?
LUCY BURDETTE: Honestly, most of us kill characters off with every book, right? But it's very hard. Very. And I admit I don't get too attached to these victims before I dispense with them. It would be truly awful if a main character decided he or she had had enough. I would be very tempted to let them go quietly.
Say have Miss Gloria move to Michigan to live nearer her sons. Or Wally decide he needed to be nearer his mom, or better still, offer him a fabulous job in Miami or New York.
But if the writers are going for tension, and angst, Matthew's death sure torqued things up. And Sybil too. But as a viewer, I hated those turns. And it simply wouldn't have worked to have Matthew decide he'd had enough of the marriage.
RHYS BOWEN: It's funny that you've posted on this topic today, Hallie, because I've recently had letters from fans saying that I should never have let Molly Murphy marry and that her marriage has spoiled her freedom to operate as a detective. One of them suggested I kill off Daniel.
But I couldn't do that, and leave Molly grieving and trying to raise a child alone in the hostile world of New York City. And for every one reader who wants Daniel out of the way there would be a thousand who'd attack me for killing him off.
I know from experience that killing off a love interest means angry readers who probably won't read our books again.
And I'm still angry about Matthew's death. I thought the whole driving force behind the plot of Downton was the Mary/Matthew romance. Once that went we were left with nineteen actors in search of a plot and we still haven't found it..
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Am I the only Red who thought killing off Downton Abbey’s Matthew was a good idea? Didn’t think so at the time, but I love how this past season it forced Lady Mary to change and grow — and challenge her father’s authority and thus the patriarchy, mirroring other gains women were making.
Also, young widows in that era have a peculiar power. Not virgins, not married, and not crones, they have a certain freedom that other women of the era don’t.
As far as killing off my own characters goes, all I can say for now is — fasten your seatbelts, kittens; it’s going to be a bumpy ride….
HALLIE: WHOA! You heard it here first, folks!!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Susan, you are a tease. And I love all your main characters. Now biting nails...
And Rhys, no, you can't kill off Daniel. I'd never forgive you. But I did love A City of Darkness and Light where Molly got to manage on her own again. But that is a dilemma for a woman in Molly's time.
I wouldn't kill off any of my main characters. I hope I've managed to come up with enough drama in the series without doing that. But I have been very emotionally attached to characters who have died or been murdered in specific books, and it's HARD. It feels like a real emotional loss. There have times when I've really had to push myself to write through it...
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I haven't killed off any romantic interests...yet. I shouldn't tease, though. I hate as a reader when I become invested in a relationship and then the lovers don't get their HEA (Happily Ever After, for those of you not conversant with Romancelandia terms.) On the other hand, I've read lots of books where the "love interest" looks more like the author being forced to throw in a guy or a gal because the editor wanted a relationship. In that case, sure. Kill 'em off.
That being said, I've killed off some very nice secondary characters, people who in no way deserved to have anything bad happen to them. Why? Because the story demanded it. Also, if you're trying to create a reasonable facsimile of life? You're going to have to include injustice, cruelty and death.
I agree with Debs, though. It's hard. I remember writing the next-to-last chapter of my third book and crying the whole way through.
HALLIE: So what do you think? Will killing off Matthew or Will turn out to be a good thing for Downton Abbey and The Good Wife? Should we feel less precious about our supporting characters and cast their fates to the wind?