One of my fellow writers recently posted a video about how some authors will kill you off in a book if you piss them off in real life. Say, for example, an acquaintance named Jennifer throws you under the bus at work. How to you enact the ultimate passive aggressive revenge? You create a character in your novel named Jenny then have her die a horrible death.
The second I watched the video, I stared at the screen in a trance. See, I’d already done that years ago when I was a kid. Back before I’d even thought about being a writer. And I learned that you never kill a friend/acquaintance off in a book. Since the Halloween season is approaching, I think it’s the right time to finally share this story.
Back in elementary school, I was best friends with a kid named John. At the time, I was going through a really snarky phase. I constantly made fun of John but swore everything was done in “good fun”.
One day, a month or so before Halloween, he’d had enough and snapped, “I’m not playing with you anymore until you stop.”
How did I respond? Well, I crossed my arms and said, “You’re just a big baby. Like your Cabbage Patch doll.”
True to his word, he stopped hanging out with me. From that moment on, we were sworn enemies. Just as the Cody and John wars were escalating – with us both trying to get the rest of the class on each of our respective sides – our teacher gave us a Halloween assignment:
Write the scariest story you can imagine.
Talk about perfect timing! I sat down and vowed to write the most horrific story ever! And I would do that by subjecting John to the worst death possible: impaling him on two-feet-long ghost vampire zombie bat fangs!
Gruesome! I just knew I’d win the prize. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Then about a week before the contest, two things happened that changed the course of my story:
1. We found out we had to read aloud to the rest of the class. Glorious! Everyone would see how much I hated John. And they’d be terrified at his death. It was perfect! I even made some revisions to heighten the gore.
2. A mutual friend of ours came up and said, “I read some of John’s story and he’s killing you.”
So John was going to try to beat me at my own game??? Oh man, I was furious! The second I got home that night, I rewrote half my story. Killing John off wasn’t good enough, anymore, so I tortured his character throughout the entire thing. Given I was in fifth grade, my tortures weren’t of the usual “rip off his toenails” variety. No, I had zombies eat half his brain. And they ate the smart half, which made him really really stupid in class. Then werewolves tore off his running muscles so he was even “slower than the girls” during P.E. By the time the contest day rolled around, I had 8 pages of John torture I was sure would one-up anything he could do. When Mrs. Burton called on volunteers that morning, my hand naturally shot in the air.
Unfortunately, so did John’s.
“John, why don’t you go first,” she said.
I sat back, fuming. He’d won that round. But I refused to show it. As John went to the front of the class, I sneered at him. My glare was supposed to say, “Do your worst.”
And he did.
His story had me being captured. Then Story Cody became a zombie and terrorized everyone. He was pretty vicious.
But then something unexpected happened. During the climax of the story, John had Story Cody snap out his zombie self. Apparently, Story Cody was the only person who had ever fought off the zombie curse. Knowing what it was like to be a zombie, Story Cody immediately knew their weaknesses. Grabbing a gun, he began shooting the zombies down. When the last zombie was gone, the school rejoiced. Story Cody was even raised on everyone’s shoulders during a parade.
My face burned as John finished and sat down. He had done the unthinkable: he’d turned me into the hero. My entire body trembled with embarrassment as Mrs. Burton said, “Since you were so excited, Cody, why don’t you go next?”
I freaked. John’s story had flipped everything on its head. How could I throw him under the bus when he’d just made me the coolest hero ever?
My pages shook as I sat on a stool at the front and flattened my pants. I pretended the stool was lopsided and wobbled on it a few times, stalling for an idea. A few students cleared their throats loudly.
“You may begin,” said Mrs. Burton.
Helpless, I began reading. I read about John being tortured. I read about his running muscles being torn out. I read about him getting beaten in races by all the girls.
I reached the end in what felt like 5 seconds. I was sure an idea would hit but the time whisked by and I had nothing. John needed saving, but my mind was a blank. Desperate, I turned the last page over, somehow expecting words to miraculously appear. Nothing.
I stared at the class, turning pages over and over, pretending I had more story. Thirty seconds turned into a minute. I kept turning my eight pages. One kid flapped his ears. My twin sister hissed, “Sit.”
That’s when the mouth diarrhea hit. Ignoring everyone, I began talking. I talked about how John became like a lizard and his running muscles began regenerating. And how his brain also regenerated to twice its normal size (making him like a brilliant Grinch). I talked and talked and talked. My brain refused to shut me up. Like the battery robot, I kept going and going. The class looked at me like this:
A paper airplane hit my arm and the class erupted into laughter. I kept talking right through it. Mrs. Burton didn’t even gripe at the class. Instead, she came over, gripped my arm, and said, “OK, Cody. Your time is up.”
The class exploded. Someone started counting seconds out loud. I pulled away and ran to my desk. The seat was cold as I sat and placed my head on the desk. A girl pretended to snore in front of me. I closed my eyes.
The voice was familiar. I sat up and looked to my left.
It was John.
I smiled and said, “Yeah, well… yours was cool, too.”
Just like that, we were best friends again. And I learned my lesson that killing friends off in your book is often worse than killing them in real life.
OK not really. But I wanted the moral to sound really grandiose.