By Joe Moore
My co-writer Lynn Sholes and I had to kill one of our children. Her name was Teresa Castillo and she was born about a year ago. Now before you get concerned and call the police, Teresa was a supporting character for the antagonist in our newest thriller, THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. We developed her right from the start as his personal assistant. Not only did she know almost all his secrets, but as she developed in the story, she became jealous of the secrets he didn’t share with her, the ones that would have elevated her to a higher level of importance.
Teresa also had some competition. His name is Carlos, and he does the dirty work for the antag. Carlos is strong-willed and wants to advance in the story as well. He and Teresa worked closely with the antag and with each other. And they both did things that rubbed our heroine the wrong way. But Carlos did some really bad things. And in the eyes of the reader, he definitely had to get his just rewards in the end. Not so much for Teresa. And therein was the problem.
Lynn and I write thrillers with complex plots, and THE PHOENIX APOSTLES is turning out to be the most complex of all. Because of the complexity, we have some really intense brainstorming sessions, especially as we approach the end of the book and must tie all the loose ends together so they are resolved for the reader. Our conference calls go on for hours as we play “what if”, argue, plot, and strategize. Since we live over 300 miles apart and only meet once or twice a year, we rely on unlimited long distance calling to work out the details.
Recently, we were discussing how each of our characters would resolve at the climax of the book. We both like big Hollywood endings, and this one is shaping up to be a whopper. We were going down the list of ever character, either signing their death warrants or letting them live another day. We knew what should happen to Carlos, but when we got to Teresa, we came up short. As a matter of fact, we couldn’t even justify placing her in the final scene. Normally, we assign all our characters “jobs” in each scene, and she was pretty much unemployed by the time the shit hit the fan.
There was a long silence on the phone. Then Lynn asked that dreaded question no self-respecting fictional character ever wants to hear. “Do we really need her?”
“You mean in the climax?”
“No, in the book?”
After another long pause, I had to admit she was right. If Teresa vanished from the pages of our novel, would it make any difference? The reluctant but honest answer was, no.
We came to the conclusion that we could convert all of Teresa’s “jobs” into the Carlos character and the result would be a tighter, crisper story with fewer heads to hop between.
And so the killing began.
Within a few hours, I had gone through the entire manuscript, found every instance of Teresa’s character, rewrote each one and shifting her responsibilities, motivations, and character development to Carlos. By sundown, Teresa was pronounced dead. Worse than dead; like some former Soviet government official who fell out of favor, she simply ceased to exist.
I had lived with Teresa for over a year. I knew her wants and needs. I liked her. But I had to sacrifice her to make for a better story. I mourned her passing, drank some whisky, and moved on.
R.I.P Teresa Castillo.
Have you ever had to kill any of your children? What forced you to do it? Were they main characters in your book or part of the supporting cast? Did it hurt or did you take pleasure in reducing them to the recycle bin?
ThrillerFest is coming.
Watch for Sunday guest blogs from Julie Kramer, Anne Hawkins, and Grant Blackwood. And coming July 26. James Scott Bell joins the Kill Zone as our new fulltime Sunday blogger.