Friday, January 20, 2017

Ding Dong the Dude Is Dead

Weeeeeell. Could last week's meme post have segued any more smoothly into this week's? I don't think it could.

I think I've provide graphic proof that I have no issue with killing of whoever needs killing. Bad guys. Innocents. Not so innocents. Folks who were in the wrong place at the wrong time - few are safe from me. And it's probably a character flaw of mine, but since those deaths happen solely to serve the story, I may be guilty of using death as plot device.

Remember fairytales? Not the ones Disney fed you - the dark and creepy tales the Brothers Grimm actually wrote - where Cinderella's step mother maimed her own daughters to get the glass slipper to fit? The penalty in those old, dark stories is almost always death. There's something ancient and bloodthirsty in the human psyche - something that whispers for the deaths of those who transgress, who keep the hero or heroine from what is rightfully theirs. No wonder genre fiction likes to off the bad guys. On some primitive level, it just feels right.

That's the bad guys sorted, but what about when it's a good guy or gal who bites it? I'll be straight with you here. It's emotional manipulation. Yep. Truth. You are being twisted into giving a crap about a character, you're being led to invest emotionally, and then you're being hauled nose first right into your own fear of death. Have I killed off good guys? Of course. SPOILER ALERT: There are likely to be more who take a dirt nap. Why? Not because I intend for you to work through your existential dread over what happens when you die - though, according the ancient Greeks, that's exactly what you're doing - that's the premise for all those tragedies they wrote. Catharsis - purging emotion. I'm not Greek. I kill off good guys because in every battle, in every crisis, in every situation with high stakes, some people learn the lessons that allow them to survive and some don't. Every action a hero or heroine takes has consequences. Sometimes, those consequences include the deaths of allies. Characters who could have been the heroes of their own stories. These are the deaths I try to be most careful with. I roll my eyes at every movie that murders some dude's family/girlfriend/partner in the first ten minutes (y'know, to motivate him) so I am very careful to not use character death as some kind of goad. That's just my particular peeve. If a character is to die, it needs to be the culmination of that character's arc - NOT a blip on someone else's arc, if you see the difference.

The one thing I can say is that I ended a book on a character's death. The series was later canceled by the publisher (not because of the death!) I'd intended to answer the question of whether that character had actually lived or died in the third book - only I didn't get to do a third book. This was not a happy thing for anyone. So. Killing characters is often necessary. Both from a story standpoint and from a character standpoint. But if there's any ambiguity about the demise, don't leave yourself and your readers hanging unless you're already contracted for the next book.