To kill or not to kill a character, that is the question.
As a new writer/author who’s still learning the craft, one of the hardest aspects of my journey is the idea that I might/will probably have to kill a character or two, or three (or more) in my story.
Now, I usually have very little problem killing off a bad guy, or girl, or even wholesale slaughter of the baddies as needed. I guess that shows I must have a cruel streak somewhere in the old bones after all.
However, I’ve found that it is challenging to take a character out of the story that I consider one of the good ones. It’s hard! Really, really hard, in fact.
You would think that it shouldn’t be all that hard since these are fictional characters in a fictional world that’s all make believe, right? It’s not that they actually feel pain, right? And it’s certainly not like they actually die, right? How can they die since they’re not really alive?
So, why is it so tough?
For me, it’s because as I bring the character to life, I’ve discovered there’s a bit of an emotional bond to that character. They’re your creations, your babies so to speak that you’ve brought into the world. And even though they’re fictional “babies,” still, I gave them life and no one knows them better than I do.
I suspect that for some authors, especially those who’ve spent years and years in the writing business, it’s not that difficult because they know that in some genres, fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and the like, dying is part of the story.
So, going in, they know that somewhere in the story, a character or characters is going to die. The question that an author faces then, is who’s going to die and why? For me, the why part is paramount.
When I read a novel and I’m really connecting to the characters, if the author decides to eliminate a character (other than bad guys/gals; kill off as many of those as you want and I usually don’t care) the writer better have a darn good reason for doing so.
Why? Because one of the reasons we read fiction is not only to get a sense of wonder, of awe, to leave our world and take a trip while never leaving the comfort of our own home is to meet new people (characters) by virtue of a fictional story.
Characters pull us into a story and they, by and large are what keeps us turning the pages to see what happens next in the story. In a sense, we begin to live in that fictional world through those characters.
In other words, the characters energize our imagination, they engage our senses, they invoke emotions, they let us dream of different worlds and possibilities.
For example, if the author is good, we hear what the characters hear. The thunderous roar of dragon fire, the hissing and sizzling as the dragon’s flames scorch the very air, the thumping of dragon wings, the wind whispering in my ear as I soar above the clouds on the back of a golden dragon.
We see what they see. The two blue dragons flash side by side through the cloud-draped sky, their scales sparkling like giant sapphire gemstones, their tunic-clad riders holding their longbows high in triumph.
As importantly, we feel what those characters feel. The courageous dragon, our—my friend, takes one last shuddering breath, closes her eyes, and her head slowly slumps to the ground, there to rest as death takes her.
My free hand quivers as I reach out and stroke her muzzle, clutching her sapphire jewel tight in my fist. I never realized just how soft a dragon’s muzzle felt, almost as soft as velvet.
For a long while, I caress her scales, my eyes stinging, my heart barely beating but each time that it does, it’s as if it beats against a red-hot coal that sears my heart-flesh sending not blood, but agony coursing through my veins.
So, in both my science fiction series (The Star Scout Saga) and now with my fantasy series (The Legend of Hooper’s Dragons) I’ve taken characters out of the story, killed them off as they say, and it hasn’t been easy.
I don’t do it for shock value and I don’t prescribe to needless, senseless killing, even if it’s fictional death.
For me, there has to be a legitimate reason that the character “dies.” Their “death” has to make sense within the context of the story, it has to move the story forward, and it can’t appear to be an after-thought as if I the author just got tired of that character and didn’t want him or her in the story anymore.
I hope that I never grow coarse or emotionless when I approach a story and know that a character must die. Yes, dying is part of living, but to my way of thinking, to be humane doesn’t just apply to the real world, it applies to the fictional world, too.