Killing Characters

I don’t care for death.

Who does? you ask.

Authors who want to write good stories, I think, is the answer.

Death is a part of life. It’s hard to get away from. It’s tragedy. It’s drama. It’s often very good storytelling. Conflict is at the heart of storytelling, and death, threat of death, or fear of death is often at the heart of conflict.

I have a friend in my Nerd Club who is a big fan of death. She judges authors on their willingness to kill off main characters, and she doesn’t shy away from following through with her own characters. Death is inescapable, I’ve heard her say (paraphrased), and to leave death out of your stories or to let all the good guys live is rather ridiculous and robs a story of all realism.

You may have heard my thoughts on this already, from my Harry Potter post. I liked Lord of the Rings because all the good guys were still alive at the end, even though you thought at least a few of them had died along the way. Joyous reunions for all, tears only shed for parting on a long trip.

I am an escapist, in fiction. I find enough death and sorrow in the real world that I don’t care to have it follow me into my fantasies. I like books where people live. I cry easily when characters die. I cried through the entire last half-hour of Titanic, the entire second act of Les Miserables, and the last three chapters of Harry Potter. Yes, I admit it. I am a sucker. I am the person they make Hallmark commercials for. I gasp, sigh, and cry on cue.

Some people find this sort of secondhand sorrow enjoyable, cathartic. I rarely do.

Death itself does not scare me as much as it used to. I believe that death is not the end, not for me or for anyone else. I believe I will see the people I love again, whether I die first or they die first. This does not stop me from fearing loss. I do not want to be alone.

That is what I think of when I think of death. Even if it is for a character in a story, someone I have little emotional connection to, I find myself thinking of the possibility of his or her death in terms of who will be left behind and what effect it will have on those people.

I never kill my characters. At least, I have not to date. If they annoy or bore me, I send them away to some land outside of focus where they can moulder away in obscurity, fates unknown. That’s better, because it leaves the possibility that some day they could return. Death is so permanent. Heck… it seems more permanent in fiction than it is in reality (unless, I suppose, you’re writing about zombies).

The only story I’ve ever written including death was a story where half a clutch of dragon eggs simply did not hatch. They had died in their shells before they ever had the chance. It was a beautiful story. Probably one of the best I’ve ever written for my Nerd Club. I cried while I was writing it, I cried when I proofread it, and I cried again when I re-read it several months later.

I wonder about the psychology of killing characters. What sort of person can hardly stand to do it? What sort of person avoids it entirely? What sort of person kills characters with glee? What sort of people are they in real life? How would they react in a real life or death situation?


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