Fiction Focus Week 5- Character Death
(Thanks to AriaAdams for this week’s theme) Killing characters is a tricky business. Some people love it, some people (myself included) hate it. There are lots of different reasons for doing it. Maybe your name is Nicholas Sparks and you want people to cry at the end of your book. Maybe it’s a plot point, or maybe it has consequences on others. There’s an episode of Doctor Who (which I’m going to count as a branch of fiction because it makes my life easier) where the Doctor saves a woman against his better judgement. He knows that the woman was meant to die because later it would inspire her granddaughter who would go on to save the human race in the name of a grandmother she never met. So the death, as awful as it was, was really important. Maybe we, as authors, can be a little like the Doctor at times. We want to save characters because they are beautiful and we love them- but is it more important for our story (and our world) if we kill them off instead?
The first book that ever made me cry was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak which I think everybody should read. The book is set in Nazi Germany so, as one might expect, there’s a lot of bad stuff going on. In fact, the book is actually narrated by Death, who claims he saw the girl he calls the Book Thief three times and goes on to tell the story around this. The last time that Death sees her is achingly sad. The Book Thief loses everything she loved, and I think why the deaths are so effective are because she reacts in such a human way. She refuses to believe it, for a while. She finds it hard to face the truth but knows she has to. She remembers tiny things about those that she has lost. And she feels drained of energy and hope. In the end, it’s not the death that makes us sad, but her reaction to it.
Or how about (potential spoilers here for) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green? A part of me hated John Green forever after reading this book because the death was so unexpected and I got really angry. What I like about this book in general is that it deals with its subject matter –cancer- in a very realistic way. It’s brutal and ugly and there’s nothing graceful nor saint-like about the patients in the story. I think this makes their struggles much more poignant, because we don’t just see them “fighting cancer”, we see them fighting everyday losses of dignity like bedwetting and infected G-tubes. So firstly, the death seems very real and we can all imagine it happening in our local hospital. But secondly, Green really makes us love his characters. He shows two people falling in love and there’s no montage, there’s no skipping, we see everything and that helps us to fall in love with them as well. So whenever one is ripped away from us, we really feel as if we’ve lost a friend. So questions today! Do you find character killing easy or difficult? Why do you do it- to raise emotion, as a plot point or just because they had to die? What do you think makes a death scene a good one? And who was the last character you killed off, and why?