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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Post About Killing Characters

Contrary to what I thought, I was indeed able to write a post for this week! It's not super long, what with me getting ready for my writers' workshop and such. But, hopefully, what I lack in wordiness I make up for in content. And, hopefully, after this week at the workshop, I'll have lots of wonderful stuff to share with you all. Hopefully...

Anyway! Now for the part you all came to read...

I recently finished reading a series (which shall remain unnamed since, while I enjoyed it, I’m hesitant to recommend it). In said series, the main character found herself amidst a war of sorts and over the course of the series many, many people die.

Usually, this bothers me. Whenever there is any sort of death in a story I get very upset with the author for doing that to me. I feel manipulated, like the author kill said character simply to create emotions in me. I can still remember talking with one of my sister’s friends about it and telling him quite ardently that I hate it when an author does that to me. That it’s cheap and akin to cheating in my mind.

So I was greatly confused when I was telling Mom about this series and she noted that quite a few people don’t make it to the end. And, that didn’t bother me. I mean, it bothered me as someone who cared about the characters. But I felt none of the emotions I described above.

Which got me to wondering- what did this author do differently? Why didn’t I feel cheated by her? Why did her characters’ deaths feel more natural than other stories? Why did I accept them when I refuse to accept it when other writers do the same thing?

And, after much pondering, it hit me.

Every writer has heard the Star Trek joke. The one about how you know who’s going to die each episode because he’s the random guy who shows up at the beginning and no one cares about him (you know, the guy in the red shirt?). And, every writer, after hearing that joke, has been told to make sure the deaths in their books are meaningful.

So, each and every writer who has ever killed one of their characters carefully plots out which death would have the most impact without ruining the story completely. They usually choose the ally- you know the one, the guy who’s fun-loving, great to be around, always offers the comic relief but also gives great advice when it’s needed. Basically, he’s the guy the hero can’t do without. Or thinks he can’t do without. Until the ally dies and the hero has to go on despite his grief.

You’ve all seen that done before, right? I dare say, if you’re a writer of any sort, you’ve written- or contemplated writing- this sort of thing. And, it’s not a bad theory. Character deaths are a great way to create emotion. And, you should make them meaningful.

But, this is where the series I just finished was different- the author didn’t only make meaningful deaths happen. The main character was in the midst of a war. People were dying around her all the time. And, sometimes those people were dear friends of hers and others were simply the random guy who showed up at the beginning of the chapter and no one- the main characters or the readers- knew them well enough to care.

Which is what made the deaths feel natural- because they were a lot more like life. Sometimes people we care about die and sometimes it’s the man who we used to see sometimes at the grocery store. Not every death in our life is “meaningful.”

So, I would like to challenge you, while planning your next novel and considering who is going to die, put in a meaningful death or two, but also add make sure you add other deaths too. Give your story a more realistic feel instead of simply manipulating your readers’ emotions. Your story will be all the more fulfilling for it. And, maybe I’ll be able to read it without feeling the need to write an angry blog post about why writers shouldn’t kill their characters :P

How about you? How do you usually react when a writer kills off a character? Have you ever felt cheated by a character’s death? 

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