Till Death do us a Part

Welcome to Character Circus ~ where they like to let you think you are the one pulling strings.

{spoilers ahead; proceed with caution}

Characters. Without them, can one imagine a story being told? Without them, whom would we relate to, through whose eyes would we see the world behind the ink on the paper, whom would we cheer for or against, how would we handle the silence inside our minds?

And yet, there comes a time when we must part with some of them; when we must say goodbye to Brom, watch as White Women take Dustfinger, read of Heatcliff’s and Cathy’s graves resting next to each other, hate the writer who thought of taking little daughter from Rhett and Scarlett, prod the book to see if it’d spill out alternate chapter of the Red Wedding, and wonder why would Dumbledore let Snape speak that curse high in the towers of Hogwarts.

The death of a character – or many of them, in some cases – is something we often meet with, and something a writer shouldn’t be running from. I have often heard writers loving their own characters simply too much to let them die – I can understand that.. but ask yourselves, do you think the writers of all those mentioned above hated them? That they didn’t care?

Characters are like children to writers – we create them, give them a name, place them in the world, lead them through their lives, offer them choices and force them to face the consequences of them. Of course we love them, of course we care about them.

And as long as the writer cares, enough to write life into that name on the paper, the readers will care as well. As long as they care, they will cry over the tragic end of the characters’ lives, and reread those scenes over and over, memorizing the last words, realizing how different those lives and deaths might have been if they’d only chose different paths at some crossroad of the story.
That is what writers should hope to achieve. That is what honours the dead character more than keeping him alive just for the sake of keeping them alive.

That said, killing the characters just for sake of killing them and coming across as a cold-hearted murderer with a quill, that isn’t the point either, really. Though being a person who has read Harry Potter series numerous times, I must say I will never forget Ms Rowling for doing just that.
Indeed, some of the deaths in the series are more than justified – obviously, there is the death of Lily and James Potter, which shapes their son and creates the base of the story. The death of Dumbledore, with which the figure of the teacher and caretaker is taken away from us. The death of Severus Snape, which was probably one of the more epic ones, and had a reason behind it – only to realize there’s more to it, and that in fact his death was in vain.
Yet in the last book, as the war strikes and danger fills the air, she made that move of killing many characters in a moment – one second, Fred, Lupin, Tonks and so many others, were right there, fighting for the cause, people whom we have grown to know and like throughout the books. The next, their bodies were lying in the Great Hall, and it was the end of their stories.

Touching. Sad. Potentially, brilliant – but it left me with that feeling, that she only did it to emphasise the meaninglessness of fighting, and the terrors those dark times brought to the world. It felt pointless, to me, and unnecessary, almost disrespectful to everything they had done until that moment.

When it comes to a character dying, that death should affect your readers, the other characters, the story itself and yourself as the writer. The characters whom you cared about, whom you’ve given life to, those are the ones the readers will cry after, those are the ones the other characters will want to keep living for. They are the ones that will never truly die, not even after years have passed from turning that last page of their stories.

What are your opinions on the characters dying? Is there a scene of such which you particularly liked, or a writer whom you could eternally curse but praise at the same time, for taking a person (or a couple of them) while you could only read helplessly?
As writers, have you ever written a death scene? What was the hardest problem concerning it, and how did you force yourself to give away one of your babies to the embrace of Death? And most of all, looking back at it, was it worth it?

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2 Responses

  1. Cailey says:

    I agree. I believe that a character’s death should not be in vain. If they die, it should be because their death is a part of the story, is something that must happen in order for the story to go on. The other characters should be changed and developed by that death.

    This is actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, since the more I think through my current novel, the more I get this sinking feeling that someone is going to die. I don’t quite know how or why yet, but even as I started writing today I felt myself glancing through the characters thinking “why are you here in this book?” and to those that I wasn’t sure about I couldn’t help but wonder if one of them was only there to die.

    It is hard, though, since you can’t just kill them. Like I said, a main character’s death should be a kind of central part of the story.

    On another note, Goodnight Mr. Tom has a brilliant death scene that makes you want to just stop reading and through away the book, but you completely admire the author. I won’t say more, though, since it might ruin it for others. 😀

  2. Skins says:

    Character death is, like, the best thing ever if done well.

    I agree that you shouldn’t just kill off characters for the sake of it though, and that a death should affect everyone and everything in one way or another. It should be done carefully in a way that actually benefits the writing.

    I personally struggle not to kill at least one character in my writing, but hey, that’s just me. I’ve only ever killed one main character in a novel though, and I knew from the beginning that he was going to die. I think knowing that early on was a positive thing because it made sure that I did go through with it instead of chicken out last minute. He was easily one of my favourite characters, so I think killing him would have been a lot more difficult if I hadn’t decided on it from the get go.

    Malorie Blackman’s novel, Noughts and Crosses (Black and White) is a complete killer for me when it comes to character death. When a certain character died in it, I wanted to just lie on the floor and die myself. The novel is part of a series of four, and I genuinely cannot read the next three books because I’m scared they’ll make me more depressed. Plus I’m still in a mood over the fact that this specific character won’t be in the next three parts because he’s dead. Bear in mind that I read this novel, like, 3-4 years ago and I still cannot read on.

    I think I may have an issue.

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