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Anne Louise Bannon on Who to Take Out

Anne Louise Bannon is the author of the Old Los Angeles series of historical mysteries and the Operation Quickline series of cozy spy novels. You can find out more about her on her website, annelouisebannon.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

A couple, three months ago, I was chatting with a good friend of mine who also is a big fan of my Old Los Angeles series. I was telling him about Death of the Drunkard (book #5) which was due to come out soon, and he asked if he first needed to read book four, Death of an Heiress. He’d obviously read the synopsis for that book, which says quite clearly that Lavina Gaines is the heiress in the title. Or I might have mentioned it to him. I don’t remember.

“You kill off one of my favorite characters in that one,” he said.

Oh. Um… Okay.

I was glad he’d gotten that invested in the series. And I want it on the record that I also liked Lavina Gaines. A lot. I seriously considered trying to find another heiress. But I needed a murder that would elicit sympathy for the victim and create urgency for my protagonist, Maddie Wilcox, to find out whodunnit. One of Maddie’s friends fit the bill and no matter how I tried to slice it, Lavina’s number came up.

I have noted before that I get considerable teasing from some of my non-author friends regarding my seemingly cavalier attitude about taking out my characters. But it’s only seemingly cavalier. There are plenty of characters that I don’t want to take out and feel really bad when I do. Really.

For example, Dr. Eunice Blakely, in These Hallowed Halls (book six in the Quickline series). I wrote that series in the early 1980s, and kept that setting when I rewrote the series a few years ago. So, I’m doing the rewrite on Hallowed Halls, and drat her, Eunice got even more interesting and fun than when she first appeared. She was a history professor who could drink her colleagues under the table and then some, while delivering a biology lecture on avian mating rituals. However, the plot needed the antagonist to do something really nasty and mean, and you can’t get much meaner than taking out a history professor with a passion for biology, real estate, and computers. Oh, and helping the female faculty and students at the college stand up to the sexist jerk of a department chair.

Death of a Drunkard cover

Because that’s the essence of the problem for us mystery authors. We write about murder, which, as Maddie Wilcox notes in the beginning of Death of the Drunkard, is the most heinous of all crimes. It is also the most dramatic and the most urgent to solve. You may be sad when you lose your favorite pen, but you’re not going to kill someone over it. You’re just going to get a new pen. We write and read about murder because those are the highest stakes.

Which means that sometimes I have to steel myself and build up the strength to take out a character that I’d prefer to keep around. Like the horse in Death of the Drunkard. Sadly, I needed a way to put Maddie in peril that the antagonist could make look like an accident. Runaway horses, with or without buggies, were incredibly common in the pueblo of Los Angeles in the 1870s. Alas, when horses take off running in a panic, they frequently break their legs, and unfortunately, back then, people didn’t think twice about shooting those poor horses.

So, I’m sorry if I snuff out a favorite character of yours. I promise, I do not do it willy-nilly. I do it because it serves the story I’m telling. And who knows? Maybe in the next of my books that you read, I’ll take out a character you want to see dead. I’d rather do that. Because I don’t like taking out the nice characters. I just sometimes have to.

Anne Louise Bannon

Anne Louise Bannon is the author of the Freddie and Kathy mystery series, set in the 1920s, the Operation Quickline Series and the Old Los Angeles series, set in the 1870s. You can find out more about her on her website, annelouisebannon.com, or follow her on Twitter, or Facebook.

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    I really enjoyed this post, Anne! Very entertaining take on a writer’s dilemma on which character is destined to become the victim!

  2. Avatar
    Marie Sutro

    Thanks for sharing!! Glad to know I’m not the only one who battles with it.

  3. Avatar
    Sharon Michalove

    Sometimes characters need to die, no matter how wonderful they are.

    1. Anne Louise Bannon
      Anne Louise Bannon

      Yeah, but Eunice??? Damn that was hard. And I can’t magically bring her back.

  4. John DeDakis
    John DeDakis

    Tell it to the judge. Actually, you have. I find you Not Guilty. Or, more accurately, Guilty by Reason of Necessity. We write to create emotion in the reader. Sure, off-ing the Bad Guy produces schadenfreude, but when someone we like (or love) dies, now there’s some real emotional investment! Note to FBI: please look the other way. Note to Anne: keep killin’ ’em.

  5. Carl Vonderau
    Carl Vonderau

    Anne, this is a very good take on one of the great pains of writing a novel. Often there are too many characters, or one just doesn’t work. However, sometimes you can use that character somewhere else. I took out a character n my first novel, MURDERABILIA, and put him in the second one, SAVING MYLES. He worked much better in the second novel.

  6. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Last time I killed off a character, he wasn’t even a good guy, but in the act of dying, he redeemed himself. I cried when I wrote it, and every time I read that scene again.

  7. Avatar
    saralynrichard

    This is so thoughtfully written. I’m sure your murdered characters forgive you for obliterating them. After all, they continue to live on the pages that come before their demises, don’t they? (That’s why it’s called fiction.)

  8. Avatar
    Colleen Winter

    Most of the time it is obvious who needs to go. We may fight it as authors but inevitably the story makes the decision. Great post!

  9. Avatar
    Jacqueline Vick

    I have to tell you. Reading about their deaths makes me want to read those particular books even more. I swear I’m neither sadist nor psychopath. Just another mystery writer.

  10. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Anne, I posted a comment earlier today about your post, but it’s not showing up here. Hmm . . .

  11. Avatar
    Laurie's Story

    In my new book, The Return, I was going to kill off a beloved character, the beta readers said they’d kill ME if I did it, so another character bit the dust.

  12. tracey64p
    tracey64p

    Great post, Anne! Like all good killers (I mean the fictional ones) we have to be strategic about who we kill. Emotional stakes are what make it count! I look forward to reading DoaD! -and by the way, the Angelica… Heaven.

    1. Anne Louise Bannon
      Anne Louise Bannon

      I’m glad you liked the wine. Go ahead and sip some while you’re reading.

  13. Joy Ann Ribar
    Joy Ann Ribar

    This is great, Anne. It’s the mark of an honest and thoughtful author to take out a beloved character. I used to hear complaints all the time when trying to read the Game of Thrones series. Everyone said not to get too attached to anybody. But I say, what a gifted writer: one who makes us love a character than dares to kill them off!

    1. Joy Ann Ribar
      Joy Ann Ribar

      Oops, “then” not “than” Bah.

      1. Anne Louise Bannon
        Anne Louise Bannon

        What kind words. Thank you. I wanted to read Game of Thrones, but decided not to not so much to avoid falling in love with characters, but because I don’t like blood and guts

  14. Avatar
    Avanit Centrae

    Great post! I’m having the same problem with my work in process, but I think he’s going to have to go!

  15. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    I just had a reader message me yesterday saying “Please tell me he’s not going to die! I really like him!”

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