Monday, June 29, 2015

Replacing Characters Mid-Stream

Richard Sigmund, "Varanasi", Ossining, NY

Writers and visual artists your insights, please! Have you ever “killed” off your main character, or replaced her with another character? Visual artists, how do you deal with dying forms, from flowers and dried river beds to human figures and emotion?

In my novel, “The Dance of Time”, my main character dies halfway through the story and a new main character, an ostensible louse, takes center stage. I’m told this is unusual, shouldn’t be done. What’s your take?  

In the graphic which is featured at right, you’ll see a painting by Richard Sigmund, a New York City artist. The work shown here, entitled “Varanasi”, on exhibit in Ossining, New York, is inspired by one of Sigmund’s trips to India. The oblique character in the painting represents a dying woman who has accepted her fate. There’s a strong relationship here to Sigmund’s main character and to my former main character. In Sigmund’s work, he has chosen not to replace his main character and the theme then translates to “acceptance”. For my main character, there is a replacement, one who is given the opportunity to redeem and renew himself which likely would not have occurred if the previous main character had lived.  That assessment may appear to answer my own concern about whether or not it is acceptable to “lose” and “replace” a main character in a novel. However, I’d like to hear what you have to say and if possible, please relate it to your own work. You’re welcome to post a link to your work as well.

View more of Sigmund’s street-art related works at the Ossining Library, New York, December, 2015 and at


  1. thanks for including me in your blog. I'm Honored.
    I do want to mention that the work is not on view until December. Also, the word OK is the basis for the work, and in this case I don't abandon it, but through all of life's hardships she prevails. Its about that light that prevails inside of each of us that is living. Its good to mention the word OK because people don't expect a word and they never see it.
    I also think as an artist its good to tell the size.
    In terms of canceling in the middle and starting again, that argument has many sides. But ultimately if we cancel ourselves there isn't any survival, and as I say, always an argument, there is reincarnation.
    Does your figure reincarnate?

  2. Richard, ...good to know that "Varanasi" will be on view in December, 2015, Ossining Library, New York. I've admired your work for years, and I find that due to the expansive proportions of your paintings,the word "OK" is quite visible. Please remind me of the actual proportions of "Varanasi". I appreciate what you say here that "if we cancel ourselves there isn't any survival." In my novel "Dance of Time" the writer cancels out a character and for her there is no survival. Yet, the new main character gets the chance to renew and in some ways to save someone else's life. I hope one day you'll read this particular novel. It is not the only genre in which I write, which brings me to another question about switching genres, and that will be for another post.

  3. Rebecca Goldstein's Properties of Light ( features a narrator protagonist who dies about 3/4 of the way through the book; it's established in a fascinating way. I love this book for its science geekiness and philosophical inquiry about morality and consciousness and, in some ways, karma. If you haven't read it, you might want to see what she does and how she handles the fictional.

  4. Ann, Your recommendations always take me where I need to go so thank you for sending me to Goldstein's "Properties of Light" and for visiting this blog. I recall that at least one poem in your book "Water-Rites" which came out in 2012 from Brick Road Poetry Press speaks to this issue: I wonder if you would post that poem here to see if there's a connection to what Sigmund says about cancelling ourselves and the absence of survival. Or, is there a type of posthumous survival that comes from strong memories of the deceased?

  5. Well, certainly there are all kinds of elegies--but that isn't what you mean, is it?

    Here's one from Water-Rites that deals with the strong presence of the lost friend. The poem has very long lines, so the formatting may come out goofy. We'll give it a try, though:

    quotes from Lorand Gaspar, “House by the Sea”

    I’m reading French poetry, and I think of you, the way you would swoon
    into music, I think of this when I read “keyboard of the enormous piano
    hammering at the heart of thought.”
    de l’immense clavier martélement au coeur de la pensée...

    I don’t read French. Neither did you. And yet, “a few loose stitches sewn
    by the oars on the sea that no sky interrupts—” how you were interrupted,
    unruly ocean spasming, dashing you foam and blood at the steps to your apartment.
    How I wish I could hear you over the stifle of water, the drowning swell.

    “Folded, broken, hurled doors banging, the long moan of a pine tree” I think of all
    your fears, how they clambered against you constantly, closing your throat,
    banishing sleep. That river you wrote about so often, brackish with sea, the big harbor
    choked by sunflowers and condoms and the bodies of the lonely, desperate dead.

    I want to dial you up as I always have and tell you I am reading French poetry.
    This poem—you would like this poem— “air trees bodies rocks and seas/
    between them and the unimaginable,/a few heart beats”—but the unimaginable
    has occurred, the heartbeats, no heart beats, no—

    like the house by the sea, you have disappeared.

  6. Ann E. Michael, I think your poem, THE ENORMOUS PIANO, will forever be one of my favorites. It expresses my own feeling about personal loss as well as inspires me to write from the perspective of one of my secondary characters. You see, in "Dance of Time", the main character, Annie Eaton, who dies mid-stream of the novel leaves behind a husband and children whose grief is mostly dealt with but the loss of Annie Eaton's friend, her loyal, loving, confident,may have been overlooked. Thank you for both the inspiration and words that speak for the emotion.