The Writing Process 2015: Saying Goodbye to Characters

Saying Goodbye to CharactersAre you a fan of classic movies? Remember all the times a novelist–usually madly typing on a vintage typewriter–finished his book with a flourish, and as the camera moved over his shoulder, typed “The End.”

He (it’s usually a he) ripped the paper out of his machine, stuffed it, along with a huge stack of similar pages, into a manila envelope and that was that. He was so good he didn’t re-read or edit. Voila, a bestseller was on its way to his publisher. Writing a book is that easy.

Movies and real life are miles apart. In fact at the rate technology is changing, I’m afraid whatever I tell you here about the way books are written today will be obsolete before I type “The End.”

Not that I ever type “The End,” but you get the point.

I finished When We Were Sisters this week. Well, close enough. Over the past year I wrote and rewrote every one of the fifty chapters. Then for the past two weeks I’ve read and revised, and finally re-read all 500+ pages out loud and revised again.

This morning after I read the last word of the epilogue out loud I sent the whole manuscript to my Kindle to read silently again this weekend. This is a step I don’t usually have the luxury of enjoying, but my deadline is still two weeks away. So I’m taking my time. I made enough changes during this lengthy process  I want to be certain they’re all working.

Will I print out the finished product and stuff it in an envelope? Not these days. I’ll attach the file to an email, and my editor will have it instantly. She’ll edit the file on her computer, send me the edited version with every change documented, every comment or question in the margin, and I’ll spend a few days incorporating what I agree with and questioning her about changes I don’t.

As my day progressed, and I ticked off the many other projects that had to wait until I finished my book, I was aware that mixed in with relief was sadness. I’ve worked on this novel for most of a year and worked hard. My deadline was chopped by two months so we could bring the book out sooner, and that meant a lot of extra hours at the computer. I should be delighted I’m done, but you know what?

Saying goodbye to characters is a lot tougher than those old movies made it seem. Of course you’re a reader, so I bet you understand. You’ve said goodbye to Scarlett and Rhett, to Harry Potter and Frodo, to Atticus Finch–at least as you once knew him. You know.

When We Were Sisters focuses on two women who grew up in foster care together. And because I wrote the story in their points of view, I have lived in their heads for months. I know every thought, every impulse, every hang-up. Now, like mothers everywhere, I’m supposed to say goodbye and let them go.

The problem? I’m not ready. This is why sequels are born, but I have no plans for one. The book stands alone and should stay that way, so I am just resigned to being lonely.

How can I help myself? Spend time with friends. Take a break for quilting, reading, and finishing my grandson’s Stegosaurus sweater–those multi-colored spikes need every ounce of my concentration.

And when Liam is officially a dinosaur, with proud Grandma looking on? Well, there’s a new book forming in my head. I found myself talking about it at breakfast this morning. My long-suffering husband smiled and nodded, the way I do when he runs sermon ideas past me. Maybe the new book will help me say goodbye to Cecilia and Robin. But first my new characters need names. And professions. And backgrounds.

So goodbye and hello. I guess it’s inevitable. New children to fuss over, to prod along, praise and gently chastize. It’s time to get moving.


  1. Kathryn on October 21, 2015 at 1:37 am

    Such a lot of yourself put into this book, but just to let you know we readers will really appreciate it and will be ready to love this one.

    • Emilie Richards on October 21, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Kathryn, thank you. I hope you do. I loved writing this one.

  2. April Mc Vey on October 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Looking forward to new books. It’s so hard to leave your stories, I retread all the time

  3. Pamela Feinberg on October 21, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Thank you for this article. I really enjoyed this. I
    took the time to think about how much you have invested into your characters. You live, eat, sleep with your characters 24/7 for months on end. It MUST be a tremendous loss to you when they are no longer “with you” . The reader is with the characters for as long as it takes to read it. I guess we can relate when we read your series books. We are always asking for the next one in the series. We don’t want to say goodbye. Thank you for making us take the time to think of your loss. Looking forward to reading your next book.

Leave a Comment