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?

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3 Responses

  1. beckiw says:

    I think if you’re going to talk about character deaths then George RR Martin has to be brought in. I love how you always feel uneasy when reading/watching Game of Thrones because after that first death (trying not to spoil here) like anyone is fair game. You know that literally anyone can and probably will die and I really like that uncertainty. There’s nothing more deflating than just knowing the main characters won’t die. Even if they don’t end up dying, I like having that uncertainty and raising of the tension. It’s like when Harry Potter was ending no one was certain the main trio would get through it alive and even though they did, I think it’s cool that there was that uncertainty there.

    I find it hard to think of killing my own characters because I love them so much. You spend so long with these people that they become friends to you and the thought of killing them is heartbreaking. I think the initial reason you think of killing a characters is for emotional impact but I don’t think that should be all. I think there should probably be a purpose for the death and ramifications from it.

    I have a character in the back of my mind at the moment from my novel that keeps cropping up as a potential character to die because the way his story is…it makes the most sense for that to happen but I’m still not convinced I can write it in a non-cliche way. So I’m still musing on it.

    (Long comment is long! Sorry!)

  2. Heather says:

    There’s something about killing my own characters which appeals to me, not for the death itself, but for the impact on both the reader and other characters.

    The last character I killed off I guess would be from my short story ‘The Pain of Glass’ and it was Tony. There was a sense of darkness hanging over the whole satire, which was the story of ex officer Anthony Parish and how he was charged with attending an alcoholics anonymous club under the supervision of a young, wet-behind-the-ears novice of a policeman (the narrator).

    But you can tell right from the start that something’s going to go wrong because the narrator’s tone is dark and wry and completely at odds with the dialogue and actions coming from the cheery, easy going young officer of the same identity. It was the change in this character which was the reason for the death: I really like the idea of starting simultaneously at the end and the start of a character’s growth path and then unfolding the details until that end point was reached and the cycle completed.

    I scrapped my last novel because I’d always intended to kill the main character, but as I reached the end, I realised that wasn’t enough to fuel the novel’s plot and I was increasingly at odds with the idea. There just wasn’t enough reason for it: neither an enduring inevitability or a shock factor. I think it’s those which make a good death and provoke a strong reaction from the reader.

    My current novel will definitely have deaths and in fact starts with a suicide (oops, I guess that was technically my last kill off) but since the main theme is angels, nobody has really died yet, or rather ceased to exist in the novel in some form.

  3. guineapiggirl says:

    I hate killing characters…
    Last time I ‘killed’ one (my main character’s sister) I actually had her rescued and I’m going to bring her back later :O I just loved her way too much…

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