Saturday, May 16, 2009

Killing a Character

In the novel I'm writing, I have to dispose of a character. In the first draft, the character takes a few valium pills, drinks a little wine, and takes his surf board out to Mavericks. Great, except my one friend in the world who surfs said the whole thing was unbelievable. First off, the scene is in the summer. There are never high waves in summer at Mavericks. Second off, my character is not a big wave surfer. How was I supposed to know that big wave surfers use different surfboards and surf on different beaches?

Time for Plan B. My sister-in-law, Anne, is from Santa Cruz and seems to know every surfing expert in Northern California. She connected me with Alex Peabody, the Aquatic Specialist & Armory Manager for the California State Parks. Alex knows a lot about how people die in the water. The contract between a fiction writer and a fiction reader is not that the story is true, but that it is believable. With help from Alex, this part of my novel may go beyond believable to gruesome.

Once Alex and I figured out how to do in the character believably (I'm not giving away everything!), the next problem was to keep the body in the water for a while, like weeks or months. It turns out that, if someone knows you're missing in the water, chances are the authorities will recover your body, especially if you're wearing a wet suit. If you're wearing concrete shoes or an anchor necklace, you may not be found, but most avid water nuts in Northern California wear a wetsuit without weighty accessories.

Once Alex and I figured out how to keep the character's body in the water believably (I'm not giving away everything!), Alex followed up with a description of the corpse. You may want to stop reading right here. I will only excerpt the first paragraph of his emailed description:

Usually the face is not recognizable if there is an face at all (I don't usually look) and there may be a few tufts of hair. The skin is a weird, [sort] of translucent and white (if caucasian) and soft. The skin on the fingers (if it there) is swollen up from being in the water.

I don't think this will make it in the novel, but who knows? If you ever think an author's job is easy, wait until you kill your first character.

No comments:

Post a Comment