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K is for Killing #AtoZChallenge

Yes, D was for Death, but that was the death of characters in books you’re reading. It was more from the reader’s perspective.

K is for killing characters in novels you’re writing (not about killing your darlings, which is something else entirely).

Sometimes, a character has to die, and it’s a shame. I hate doing it, but it becomes inevitable when you’re writing certain types of fiction: horror, thriller, or murder mystery, for example.

The Experiencers has quite a substantial body count. The story involves assassins, so deaths are to be expected. When the deaths occur, though, they flow organically from the story, and each one has a point.

However, after the novel was published, I had one reader contact me to say that one of the characters who was still alive should die in the sequel. At this time, A Ring of Truth was written but not released, so he didn’t know yet how the story would end.

His reason for this was that the character slept around, and he said story rules dictate that sluts/satyrs should die. According to this reader, the character should repent but die a horrible death.

While this “rule” does, perhaps, apply in cheesy slasher horror flicks, my Valiant Chronicles are not cheesy (I hope) and are not horror (despite some horrifying scenes). If that character were to die, it would be because that’s where his story fate led him. It wouldn’t happen as a punishment for loose morals.

Based on that logic, most of my characters should die a horrible death. While not all of them sleep around as much as this character, they’re not Puritans. For example, Dani, in Injury, is emotionally damaged and has low self-esteem. She suffers from abandonment issues and her hook-ups, in the beginning, are a search for a father figure.

People are flawed. Characters are flawed. They should grow, evolve, mature. If they don’t, there should be a logical reason why they’ve stagnated despite all they’ve gone through. Perhaps that stagnation is the point of the story. But should their flaws lead them to death despite their growth (or instead of it)? I don’t think so.

Making extramarital sex punishable by death in a story smacks of didacticism, and I prefer not to go there. It’s difficult, though, because as a human with values and a moral code, I struggle to remain objective when characters behave in ways I wouldn’t. Ideally, the characters have beliefs and a moral code they adhere to, and they should, at times, clash with those of the writer. How else can you get well-rounded characters?

Some characters, of course, reflect the writer. Gillian in Gillian’s Island has neuroses with which I’m intimate. All my characters, to some degree, contain a piece of me (some, I’m sure, unconsciously). But when I create characters, they are separate from who I am. When they make a decision, it’s not always what I’d have done under similar circumstances.

What was interesting about this reader’s comment was that he didn’t say the same about a main character in The Experiencers, Michael Valiant, whose job description included killing people. Michael had his justifications for it, just as the other character had his for sleeping around (including with married women). But apparently murder doesn’t need to be punishable by death in this reader’s eyes.

Most of the time, readers complain of a writer killing off a favourite character. Rare is the reader who complains when a character lives. In this instance, it ignited a fascinating examination for me on character killing that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. It didn’t change my stance on the matter, and it didn’t change the fate of the character, but I enjoyed the resulting discussion.

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9 Responses

  1. Hi Val – fascinating blog! plenty to think about here, especially why characters should die. I’m with you on reasons for killing off characters being plot-driven.
    Keep up the blog challenge – I’m impressed. 🙂

  2. Hi Val. Fascinating article. I like the way you responded positively to what could have been a negative comment. What right has a reader to dictate how your characters behave?! BTW, here’s the link I promised in my reply to your comment on my K contribution. It’s to Elizabeth Chadwick’s site where she has tons of stuff based on her extensive research into the medieval period.
    http://elizabethchadwick.com/

  3. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I know when I get attached to a character in a book series and then they are knocked off, it’s hard to let go! That’s when you know you have a good author/series – that you care enough to be sad or mad or … Dropping by from the A to Z Challenge. Keep up the good work! http://www.dianeweidenbenner.com

  5. […] found developing Arnie’s character particularly enjoyable. Arnie was the satyr I mentioned in a previous post. I won’t say anything more about what happens to him, but it was fun getting him where he had […]

  6. […] character, according to a reader, deserves to die because of his loose morals. Interestingly, the reader who said that was male. Female readers […]

  7. […] considering I wrote The Valiant Chronicles and Storm Lake. Trust me, I suffered just as much over deaths in those as I do over those of characters I read about in other […]

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