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Documenting my odyssey into the wonderful world of fantasy writing and beyond. Can't promise I will always be on topic as the world is vast and full of such wonderous, and sometimes terrible, distractions. Email me: cassandra.jade.author@gmail.com

15 July, 2009

Character - Eenie, Meenie, Mini, Mo, Which Character Should I Kill?

Maybe it is a little cold hearted but I was talking with a few people about this over the last couple of days and we all came to the same conclusion - most writers are too resistant to the idea of killing off their characters.

This is something that most fantasy readers are familiar with. Group of adventurer's, lead by plucky protagonist, go off an absolutely impossible quest and, with the exception of one character (usually the sweetest and most helpful of the group - or the one who was secretly a traitor), all of the adventurer's survive despite the apparent high degree of danger. Either the quest isn't that impossible or the writer just couldn't bring themselves to knock over any of the other characters.

I've been working on a few outlines recently while I finish off other projects and I have to admit, even though I haven't actually written any of the characters yet I am already very attached to them. However, knowing that it bothers me when characters seem to dance blithely into danger and survive unscathed I started actively plotting the several of the character's demises. Usually I just work on raining pain and misery down upon my characters so that they can overcome it but I am now working to actually kill them.

Even knowing that my goal was to eliminate several characters, I found myself seeking excuses to spare them this fate. "But this one could..." "But the reader will be too attached..." "But if I do that this other character will be..."

These are characters. Not real people. In point of fact, most of them aren't even characters yet. They are dot points and sketchy outlines scribbled in the back of notebooks. I haven't even named some of them and I'm worried about their death.

Those who follow me on twitter will know that I recently resolved one of these problems with a coin toss. A particular character that I had decided to kill off was actively protesting his selection. A hundred good reasons to keep him around flooded my head. Having had enough of the indecision, and knowing I had chosen this particular character because he served no significant role in the climax and had in fact already served his purpose within the story (and in his death could also be a catalyst for another significant event) I decided to leave the decision in fate's hands. I think we all know that fate is cruel.

The Twitter post went as follows:

Decision made, character definitely dead, just have to figure out how and when. Slightly morbid plotting the death of a beloved character.

The character in question is still trying to claw his way back to life and justify his existence but I think I'm going to remain strong on this particular point.

Do I like gory stories where everybody dies? No. I don't see the point in bloodshed for the sake of bloodshed. And I'm not particularly concerned with overt realism in story telling. The fact that nobody would survive a particular situation in reality doesn't mean you can't have some of your characters come through it alright. However, I think it is easier to accept those that survive if you allow characters to die. Not just the nameless nobodies in the background, but the characters people have invested time and energy in. Make them feel something. Make them shocked or sad or angry but don't just have everyone survive and join hands and sing.

I also noticed this in an MS draft I wrote last Christmas and have been working on off and on inbetween other projects. I have an army invade a city and every person in the city has either fled or is fighting off the army and only two named characters manage to get themselves killed (and neither were particularly well liked to begin with). It doesn't make sense and it seems way too trite. Though which characters will live and die is still a matter of debate.

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