At the end of June, I announced I was going to kill off Nick Kepler unless I sold 50 copies of Second Hand Goods. The idea comes from an old National Lampoon cover that said “Buy this magazine, or we’ll kill this dog.”
Aside from no copies of Second Hand Goods selling, the most common reaction was, “Why would you kill him off?”
The answer: I was sick of the character. I attempted to revive the multi-book story arc I originally planned for him only to find I didn’t like the story very much anymore. Nick was supposed to help find out why his high school friend’s husband killed himself. It involved an old amusement park (a premise I still want to revisit), and, of course, Nick ends up sleeping with his client. Nick is always sleeping with at least one or two women in his books. I’ve always worked on the idea that, while a female character does not have to pass the Bechdel Test, it should be obvious that she could. Hard to do when storylines have mixed casts and your POV protags tend to be male. Impossible when your POV protag is male, and he gets naked with at least two of the major female characters. I looked at Holland Bay, where Detective Jessica Branson’s first scene has her looking in a mirror and calling herself a stupid slut (and bemoaning a wicked hangover). By the middle of the book, she refers to one of the major antagonists as her “Great White Whale,” barely manages to call out her male coworkers with something more than “Hey, you!” and is probably the one character the homicidal drug lord needs to fear most. (I have a lot of characters, protags and antags, hunting him like a whale.)
Then I looked at the science fiction novel. It’s an ensemble piece. There’s one protag who dominates one storyline, and another who, while not necessarily leading her part of the cast, is the voice of reason. Like Holland Bay, this one has big casts and a complex story (and unlike Holland Bay, a straightforward plot: Invaders come, renegades take advantage, explosions go all explodey.) Nick did not seem like a good use of my creative time.
So why did I want to kill him? He wasn’t earning. Oh, people look at Northcoast Shakedown and, occasionally, Bad Religion. But for all Nick’s personal struggles, those books are bigger stories, particularly Bad Religion. People seem to like Road Rules more. Road Rules has a bigger cast (despite it’s brevity) and usually leaves readers laughing. (The worst feedback I ever had was that it got too sarcastic. Hey, it’s a child of its author. Sarcasm is one of my best skills!) Again, Nick just didn’t do it for me anymore.
So I revisited Gypsy’s Kiss, about to go into revision. I didn’t like the original, so I pulled it back, changed the story up a little, and gave it a less cheesy ending. I’m also going to move the time up to 2005 (the current version starts a couple of months after Northcoast in 2002.) It’s still the end of Nick, but only as a PI. I won’t tell you how just yet. You’ll have to buy it when it comes out.
But I learned that killing a character out of spite is really just spiting the reader. Writers get enough flack for killing off characters when it serves the story. Which is the only reason anything should happen in a story.