word craft


When Characters Die

Crispin at the Edge of the WorldI recent­ly received a let­ter from a young fan con­cern­ing my Crispin books. The writer informed me that when he read the sec­ond book in the series (At the Edge of the World), he “fell in love” with the char­ac­ter Troth. Then, when he turned to the third book, and real­ized Troth was not part of the sto­ry, he was heartbroken. 

He asked me to rewrite that book and put Troth into it.

A num­ber of years ago, anoth­er read­er wrote to me about my book Lord Kirkle’s Mon­ey, con­cern­ing the char­ac­ter Mr. Drab­ble. In the course of the sto­ry (near the end) Mr. Drab­ble dies in a fire. My read­er was dis­traught that this was the fate of her favorite. She was so furi­ous with me, she swore (at great length) that she would nev­er read anoth­er of my books, and promised to tell her friends to avoid my writing.

I wrote back to her to sug­gest that as in life, char­ac­ters some­times do die, and offered a few famous exam­ples, Char­lotte from Charlotte’s Web, Leslie from Bridge to Ter­abithia, and so on. Nev­er received an answer.

Charlotte's Web, Bridge to Terabithia

Over the years I have received oth­er such let­ters regard­ing oth­er char­ac­ters in oth­er books,

One of the joys of writ­ing for young peo­ple is that they often ful­ly engage with your sto­ry and char­ac­ters. They do so to the point that the char­ac­ters become real, but then again not so real that they for­get it was me who invent­ed the characters—hence they com­plain to me. I’m sure many oth­er writ­ers get let­ters asking—at the close of the book—“But what hap­pened next?” I sus­pect this is why series books are popular—there is an afterlife.

It’s one of the curi­ous con­tra­dic­tions about fic­tion: The bet­ter writ­ten it is, the less like fic­tion it feels. The writer must—I know I do—struggle to cre­ate that real­i­ty. The manip­u­la­tion of the text is to hide manip­u­la­tion. The art is to make the art invisible.

That said, we often think of children’s lit­er­a­ture in terms of who writes what, and how well the author has writ­ten. But some­times I think what makes the field unique is how young read­ers respond to sto­ry and char­ac­ters, and how deeply they feel about what tran­spires in a tale.

I, for one, love that.

12 thoughts on “When Characters Die”

  1. As an adult, I reread your books because I find them as engross­ing and ‘real’ as the clas­sics (Dick­ens, Con­rad, etc.) in adult lit­er­a­ture. Per­haps I’m a child at heart, but your writ­ing is so accom­plished that I think many adults, if they would set aside any pre­con­cep­tions about age-spe­cif­ic sto­ries and read your books, would find them­selves plunged into the sto­ries with as much aban­don and heart as your younger audience.

    • Good­ness!. That post was writ­ten years ago. Nev­er pub­lished. And the edi­tor men­tioned in the com­ment –alas–died. I’m not sure I can find the man­u­script, it being on one of those old hard disks.

      • Please try and find the man­u­script or try to recre­ate it if you can I would real­ly love to read it. It sounds like a fas­ci­nat­ing book. Thank you.

  2. Any chance we’ll hear from Avon and Edward again? I read those to my kids when they were young and they laughed & gig­gled their way through them. When I first start­ed writ­ing, to learn more, I grabbed “A Begin­ning, A Mud­dle, and An End” as the sub­ti­tle was “The Right Way to Write Writ­ing”. All the best to you…


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