Monday, October 25, 2010

It’s Time to Die … Or Is It?

Death ... it's a staple of fiction and movies.  Dramatic deaths.  Casual deaths.  Murders.

It's a driving force to advance plot lines or to resolve a dramatic arc.

There comes a time when a character needs to die.  Not because you hate them, but because it will advance the story towards its conclusion.

And when that occurs, as a writer you have to ask yourself, "How comfortable am I with this?"

To some authors, their characters are like their babies; if anything truly bad would happen to them, it would cause some emotional distress for the writer.  To others, a character is simply a vehicle through which the story is told.  And when it's that character's time to die ... they die.

For me, I have no issue with killing off characters.  I've even killed off main characters in the last chapter ... because it was the only way to advance -- or in this case, finish -- the story.  It was the right thing to do for the story.

In On Writing, Stephen King repeatedly talks about how a writer's main job is to tell the truth.  Readers have a way of knowing when you're holding back, when you're fibbing to them, or when you're just plain ol' cheating them out of the whole story.  If you do this often -- I don't think you should do it all -- your once faithful readership is no longer interested in hearing or reading your tales.

Why?  Because you don't write the truth.  Sure, you write fiction, which is basically a lie but it needs to be internally truthful.  This "truthiness" is a key element of someone's suspension of disbelief.  Without it, the reader doesn't buy it to the story you're telling.

And the truth is ... people die.  They can die heroically.  Ironically.  Even in the most crappy ways.  For example, in All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul Baumer's death is a poignant example of the senselessness of war.  Yes, the reader was attached to the character; but it was this very attachment that causes the final scene to have such emotional power.  If Baumer lived, the impact of the story would have been less (there are enough other powerful scenes that the book would still have impact) and the book would not have been as "great".

So, how about you?  Do you have qualms about killing off a character?  Or are you a reader that doesn't like it when a favorite character bites the dust?

No comments: