So sorry for the silence, guys. We’re having major problems with our computers. Thanx for your patience, and without further ado… our battle.
In the right corner, the reigning champ, the Celtic-No drama-Mama, Mathair.
The challenger, in the right, the grim reaper of the Smoky Mountains, Inion.
Let’s begin with the challenger:
Killing off characters is a touchy subject that all authors must deal with at some point in their careers. From the superfluous, secondary characters to even the untouchable, main character, unless their setting is La-La land where no one dies and everyone gets a happily ever after, technically no one is safe. Or, no one should be safe.
Let’s face it, even good fiction has to be based on some form of reality, simply because readers become that much more invested in the story and it’s characters. It is that very connection that causes the author to hesitate in playing the grim reaper.
Most writers fear that readers will react negatively to the death of major key players. The ever present cloud looming overhead, is that our readers will actually be so appalled, feeling betrayed by the author that they’ll put the book down.
Should a writer risk toying with the emotions of their readers? *Shrugs* Isn’t that kind of the point? A good writer will always want to arouse feelings from their readers. It’s our purpose, the whole reason we put pen to paper, fingers to keys.
We’re artists at heart and eliciting passion is the base of whatever an artist does, whether we’re making you fall in love with a hero/heroine, angering you with an injustice, scaring you with a villain, or even, causing you to squeeze out a few tears over a death.
And, so comes my take on killing off characters. I know it sounds morbid, but I actually prefer a book that has a few deaths in it. I’m not talking about characters that no one cares about, that’s meaningless to me. I almost become offended in that respect, citing that a writer didn’t have the balls to take out a key player, but figured they could throw their edgy card in by taking out the guy that fixed the main character’s latte in chapter five. It infuriates me. Harsh, I know, but it’s such a cop out.
No, I prefer it when there’s gritty, meaty, real-world pain in a novel. I want someone I love, someone I connected with, someone I’d want to lay my life down for to kick the bucket. Will I put the book down? Only to dry the few tears that have escaped.
For someone that’s dealt with death numerous amounts of times in her life, I appreciate that a writer would tackle such a heavy, but common issue. And, I think the fear writer’s have about their reader’s reactions, are merely the reflections of their own insecurities.
Look how the world embraced J.K. Rowling and the gritty children’s story of an orphan whose parent’s were murdered by the same man that’s seeking his life. The Harry Potter series has many aspects readers can relate to. From first love, lasting friendships, and yes, even death. There were plenty of people that thought it was a risky choice. Death is a pretty heavy topic to undertake in a children’s book, but Ms. Rowling didn’t want to behave as though children weren’t capable of handling death, or any of these intrinsic issues.
Many were skeptical about her choice, but the proof is in the proverbial pudding. The Harry Potter series is one of the most renown and well-received children’s series in the world.
I respect Ms. Rowling for her boldness and passion to stay true to her story. You see, without those deaths Harry’s story would have been much different. He wouldn’t have been the warrior he turned out to be, he wouldn’t have been able to fight the likes of Voldemort had he not have been toughened by the death of loved ones and dear friends.
And, let’s not forget the basics, people. In a war between something as epic as good and evil, casualties are to be expected. Would the readers have taken a threat like Voldemort and the death eaters as literal, had they’re not have been some deaths along the way?
No! Voldemort would’ve been no more intimidating than Swiper the swiping fox. Could you just imagine how entertaining that would’ve been to the vast age range of Harry Potter readers?
“Where’s the wand? Where’s the wand? Where’s the wand?” Harry sings as Voldemort swipes the Deathly Hallows… again!
“Blast that Swiping Slytherin!” Harry exclaims.
Yeah, not very intellectually stimulating in that light.
And, what about the simple fact that a story should tell itself. They shouldn’t try to control it, pander to a certain demographic, cater to the business, appease agents or publishers. An author should allow a story to unfold before them. Attempting to curtail any aspect of it, including deaths, is blanching the integrity of the story and the characters’ journeys.
As you can see, I have a bit of a grim reaper affair with novels, and for good reason. Yet, I don’t believe an author should go around knocking off every character in their novel just for the sake of it. There should be reason behind a death, behind every moment in a story. It should be like laying brickwork for your protagonist. It’s a very tedious thing, but the end result is so satisfying when you see that sturdy, grounded beauty that you created.
When discussing with my daughter what topic we would use for our battle, she recommended the argument we had during the process of writing our first book. The fight was over the death of a secondary character. She envisioned the character biting the dust, but I told her that killing it would be, not only risky in the progression of the story, but also from a marketing standpoint. The character is an intricate part of our novel and I believe the readers would ultimately feel betrayed by the death.
Our next move is the foundation of how we write as a team. We wrote. Hers with the character’s untimely death, mine allowed it to live and advance in the story. Now, I can’t tell you what we decided on, mainly due to the fact we would be giving away an important part of our story; a spoiler if you will. What I can tell you is this, though we agreed on which route to take, the argument is one that seems to spawn it’s ugly little head constantly in our writing.
My daughter’s righteous indignation, brought on no doubt by her youthful artistic passion, is flippant and rash where a writer’s beloved characters are concerned. And, unrealistic if you think you’re going to keep readers involved when you strip their emotions down with a death and ask them to stay for the rest of the novel.
What’s left Inion? Why should they keep reading? So they can connect to another only to have the possibility of having them snatched away.
She’ll speak to you of anecdotes reminiscent of a Shakespearian doom. She’ll say that the chips must fall where they may, and her favorite line, “Let the story tell itself”. She’s adamant that a writer should never be bound to agent’s or publisher’s demands while crafting their masterpiece. It’s a matter of principle after all.
Oh, to be young again. Fact of the matter is, baby, if it doesn’t wash with the publishers, agents, and, most importantly the fans, then it just ain’t clean. Here’s a line for you to live by, “Let the story sell, itself”!
I can hear the idealistic artists falling back with their gasps, like vampires exposed to sunlight! “What a sell out!” they shout.
Remember, guys, the key word is sell. But, for an impassive outlook, here’s my artistic opinion, minus the money.
Time invested with anyone, or thing, is a person’s emotional stake. As readers, we have that passionate bond that makes us appreciate the characters’ unique qualities or flaws which allows us to fall in love, admire and sometimes even relate to the character. Whether they are uniquely crafted and break the mold, or those who are reminiscent of the characters of ole while we celebrate the splendor of their similarities.
There’s a reason that recipes work, because they’re tested in the fires. Another words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! And here’s another suggestion for you, Inion: As a writer, how can you take death so lightly?! In no world, whether real or fiction, should death be something that is embraced. It’s final! And no matter what story your living, it hurts! We have a responsibility to our fans, plain and simple. And, to the story.
I only wish real life could emulate fiction at times; that we could find a wand to wave over them, or a portal to hop into and escape or even a spell to bring those we love back. My daughter, believes that fiction should mirror reality in order for the reader to believe it and be able to relate. I won’t argue with that point, but I also believe that there must be a fair share of fantastical elements to offer an escape from reality. I want our readers to take a break from reality by walking into a world that offers a more balanced portion of fantasy verses reality.
As I sit here typing, I recall a movie, with Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr from the eighties. The movie, “She-Devil”, starts with the story following the life of a mundane housewife. Her husband, played by Ed Begley Jr., who’s a tax attorney, is disenchanted with his moderately normal and boring life, consisting of his overweight wife, mid-level home in the suburbs, and two kids.
While attending a business party, with his wife, he meets one of their clients, an award winning romance novelist, played by Meryl Streep. Sexually attracted to each other, they begin an affair and through the course of the movie, Meryl Streep’s life transforms into Roseanne’s, now that she has Bob, his two kids, their dog, and her mother. She discovers life isn’t all romance, chance meetings, and pink dreams.
My favorite part of the movie, is when she meets her literary agent for lunch to discuss her new book that she’s written. The romance novel, entitled “Love In The Rinse Cycle”, has the Literary agent a little more than worried.
Meryl Streep asks her agent if she enjoyed it and how much money it could make, and so the agent responds as any agent should, with complete brutal honesty. “Why did you stray from the formula? Nobody wants to read a romance novel with a housewife heroine and a hero named Bob. You dedicated an entire chapter to laundry.”
Meryl Streep is completely offended, but before she leaves, she says arrogantly, “It’s a metaphor. My fans will understand the story and love it! And by the way, I happen to love the name Bob!”
Inion and I have an entire section of our library dedicated to Non-Fiction books that we love, but they are books written by professionals that are experts in their field, and which appeal to our hunger for that particular topic. But, w hen I sit down for a good fiction book, I want to escape. I don’t believe anyone wants a harsh dose of reality while being topped with small amounts of sprinkled fantasy to choke down.
My daughter wants to use the brilliant J.K. Rowling as an example. Well, let’s.
Harry’s parents didn’t hit the pages long enough for us to make a connection with them. Though they are an important factor in the saga, providing us with a brilliant, nerdy but courageous hero, we as readers didn’t get to know them well enough to feel anything over their death.
J.K. knew there would be no great feeling of loss, because the story didn’t begin until they were out of the picture. Oh, I know that their death is vital to the story, and important, but the connection with them is not. It’s Harry that the reader connects with and empathizes with, not Lily or James. Later on, the reader has certain questions come up about the Potters which J.K. fills the gaps in quite nicely. And it’s all important, but only as fillers for the main character.
As for heavy deaths. J.K. would’ve never killed Hermione, Ron or Harry. Now, she did kill Dumbledore, which was pretty risky, but as a writer with fans, she had to wonder if her readers would feel betrayed. After all, Dumbledore was a beloved character, and the father Harry never had growing up. But that came towards the end of the series and she put others in his life, that were able to fill that void, while also making his death, necessary in the process to reach that epic war.
Now, ask yourself this. If Inion is right, and you can afford to kill off a main character(s), do you think The Harry Potter fans would have been content and continued to read the series, if JK would’ve killed off Hermione or Ron? Could she really have afforded to do that?! Hell no! And she didn’t! Because there are some things that should be sacred to a writer, and their main character(s) is one; because death is final; because our readers should be kept happy. Challenged, but happy.
Inion believes that you should never allow others to compromise your work, and she seems irritated by stories that offer the stereo typical happily ever after, but these things work. And as writers, we have to always be willing to bend, just a little, even with something as precious as our work so that we are able to grow.
Sorry, babe, but my opinion stays the same. As far as I’m concerned, there are cardinal sins for writers and one of them is the death of a beloved main character. So, unless your going to wave a wand over them and bring their asses back to life, leave them alone.
We would love to hear from all of you, and find out where you stand on this debate. Please feel free to send us a comment. If you only want to vote, then simply choose: Inion: Grim Reaper or Mathair: Right to life.