RIP   15 comments

March 30, 2020

How do you feel about killing off one of your major characters?

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Disclaimer – this topic was chosen for the bloghop before Covid19 was a thing, but I still don’t disavow my statements here. Death is a natural part of life.

Fiction Imitates Life

People die! It’s a fact of life and should be a fact of fiction because the best fiction has some reality to it. People die.

In high fantasy, people walk around with swords and get all hot and bothered about honor and cattle. Of course, someone is going to die in that situation. You didn’t think those swords were jewelry, right? They’re weapons and they’re bound to get used from time to time. Plus, there’s rarely been a medieval society that had invented penicillin. We forget that people regularly died from cuts and sinus infections before World War 2. Dying is a natural part of life.

In apocalyptic fiction, people should die. I mean think about it. The world is spinning out of control. Do you really think everyone is going to survive that?

So I’m down with killing major characters occasionally. In Daermad Cycle’s first book The Willow Branch, I killed a major character before Page 10. I built Prince Maryn up to be the hero of the book and then I plunged a 10-foot-long spear through his guts and into his spine, staking him to a tree — and thereby established that anyone can die in this series. I then killed his father and his brother Perryn by the middle of the book. Although they haven’t died yet, I’ve blinded Tamys, drove Daryl mad, put Danyl into a coma, and paralyzed Teddryn by the end of Mirklin Wood. Any one of them or someone else could die at any page turn.

In Transformation Project’s first book, Life As We Knew It, I killed 30 million people. The readers possibly got to know a couple of them. They weren’t major characters, but yeah — anyone can die in an apocalyptic novel. In the second book Objects in View, I killed about 80 townspeople. They were all minor characters, but one of them even had a speaking role before I turned him into a corpse. I built up Jacob Delaney into the 95-year-old voice of reason and radicalism throughout the first five books of the series — and he died at the end of Gathering In, the latest book. I also had Shane leave his best friend to die. Yeah, I’m not nice to my characters.

Maryn, Mike and Jacob were major characters at the point of the story where they died. Why did I kill them?

Remember what I said about I’m mostly transcribing the stories the characters tell me? Well, Maryn stopped talking to me after I wrote the first scene. He wasn’t supposed to die. I had this romantic story outlined for him. He fathered a child and his lover’s story was clear to me, but he was just never in it. I wrote a lot of the first draft of The Willow Branch trying to write this wooden character into different scenes and I finally admitted that Maryn must have died. I went back to where he last spoke to me and — Maryn went out like a hero at the end of the first chapter of the book. Who exactly killed him remains as big a mystery as who John Snow’s mother was for all the way through Dance of Dragons in the Song of Ice and Fire, so his death served a purpose — it wasn’t just to show I can be blood-thirsty.

Right before I finished the draft of Objects in View, an old friend died — the father of a friend and my former Sunday school teacher. I thought I’d honor Dick by putting him in my book as a minor character. He was just supposed to flit in and flit out because I don’t base characters on people I know, but the character of Dick Vance took on a life of his own — for a period of time. But I felt the strain as I wrote scenes for him in A Threatening Fragility and I knew he wouldn’t survive the end of the book. He was never a character that spoke to me in the same way that my fictional characters do. Mainly I drew upon “What would Dick say in this situation?” and when I got to the point where I couldn’t see what my real-life friend Dick would say, he needed to die. I was glad to give him the respect of his final rest, as glad as I was to give him the honor of gracing two of my books. I enjoyed sending him out as a hero.

Jacob was harder. I knew almost from the start of writing the series he would die at some point. I just can’t visualize him in the last scenes of the series. I visualize other people quoting him, but he’s just never there. But he still had lots of story to write and I enjoyed it. He was like visiting an old and deeply wise friend, but I always knew that a 95-year-old is not going to survive the apocalypse. When I started planning Gathering In, I sensed Jacob shutting down. He gave me a great couple of final scenes and then he sat down in a recliner and went silent. Now that I’m working on the next book Winter’s Reckoning, I understand why, but it hurt to let the old man go. It was like if my own father passed away.

It’s been two weeks since I published Red Kryptonite Curve, a YA about a teenage boy struggling with alcoholism and the consequences of his inability to control his choices. It’s a series and while nobody dies in the first book, I’m aware that someone will die in the second one due out next year. It’s realistic and I like realism. And yet, every time I consider the draft points for the next book “Centerline”, I mist up because I don’t want to kill the character I know must die.

So I have mixed feelings about killing off major characters. Reasonably, I know major characters have to die or the fiction doesn’t feel real and that’s vitally important when you’re writing series. But I mourn them. I feel the loss of their voices in my head. And I feel sorry for their family and friends who will miss them. But pretty much, if they quit talking to me, they’re dead and it’s up to me to figure out how they will die in the best way possible to advance the story to the next level.

So Rest in Peace, guys! Know that your deaths were for a good cause.

No spoilers as to who will die in future books, but in Gathering In, I introduced a flu that is somewhat mild in the northern territories, but quite deadly in the southern climes. Why? I’m not telling. It opens up a whole lot of reasons to kill off major characters. Shane’s best friend Mike has already succumbed to the disease and Dylan Rigby has been brought low by the secondary effects of the virus. And, no, I started writing Gathering In back in November 2018, so I’m prescient, not pandering because of CoVid19. I liked Mike. I was sorry to see him go and he didn’t quit talking to me so he’ll probably show up in Shane’s memories. I like Dylan and I hope he lives. But nobody gets out of the apocalypse unscathed and death is just one of the tragedies that might befall a major character.

It’s the apocalypse after all.

_______

Go check out what my fellow blog hoppers have to say on this topic. And also consider following my buy links, because there’s hope in the apocalypse, even as I kill of the characters you might love.

Posted March 30, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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15 responses to “RIP

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  1. I tend not to kill off any characters now, after receiving advice from an agent. Also when I did kill off Alistair in ‘Revenge’, readers didn’t like it and I had to change the ending!

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    • I’ve read a lot of agent articles that say “Never kill a major character”, but of course I think George RR Martin has probably convinced a few that fans will still stick in if the death of a major character is for a good purpose.

      There are genres where the lack of death is okay. Nobody expects it and nobody notices if it doesn’t happen. But I’m writing genres where my characters are constantly in danger and it just doesn’t make sense that they all live to the end of the whole series.

      I’ve never submitted Transformation Project to an agent. I got tired of it with “The Willow Branch”. I did have a story development editor tell me that starting Transformation Project with the main character (Shane) putting his gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger (on an empty chamber) was a ballsy choice that sets the mood for the whole series. Not even Shane is guaranteed to live through the next scene, which keeps the readers turning the page. That I’m unlikely to actually kill the focal character doesn’t mean as much that I am willing to kill him if it advances the plot. But nobody dies in my books without a good reason (well, other than Dick Vance and that was because I used a real person as a character and then realized I’d written myself into a corner.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Do you worry about releasing a book that will seem to draw upon the current event? (when that isn’t your intention?) Do you think readers will read meanings into the story that you didn’t put there?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, but I always put a message from the author in the book, so people know this was in the plans before the current situation. Anyone who sees the release date for Gathering In can see it predates it too. The struggle for me is to not allow current events to change what I had planned. I’m already having to do that because the first book in the series published before Donald Trump became president. I really didn’t see that coming. So he’s nothing but a real estate developer in Transformation Project universe and I have to stop myself constantly and remind myself that he never existed there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In my worlds, anyone is fair game, as long as it advances the plot. I’m no fan of pointless, gratuitous slaughter, my characters are my children and like any father I want them to achieve all that they can. Once they’ve done that, all bets are off. It still hurts me to kill them, at least they have done what they were intended to do.

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    • Total agreement. When a character stops talking to me, I try to always find a bloodless way for them to exit stage left, but then the death of both Mike and Jacob will drive Shane’s development in the next two books, so it’s for a good cause.

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  4. This topic has certainly evoked some interesting responses. I have not killed a main character in a novel but have killed many in my short stories which are all either horror, supernatural or murder mystery. I don’t mind killing my characters, they are there to do my bidding.

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  5. I have two observations. How can someone be a major character in 10 pages of book 1? There is no investment there. Anyway. The other, I have discovered, is that genre, or who will be the DA next season decides who and how many get whacked. I liked the graphic. I’m surprised that nowhere in this week’s discussion has anyone mentioned “Misery”.

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  6. Exactly, literature reflects reality in its way, and death is a natural part of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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