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Monday, April 30, 2007

Death by Times New Roman


I once had a creative writing teacher tell me:
Kill a character your reader knows and it's a tragedy,
Kill a character your reader doesn't and it's a mystery.
For whatever reason, it's something that has stuck in my mind. I was thinking about writing my novel this weekend, and I say thinking because that's pretty much as far as I got with it. My novel is an action piece and as such, several stranger characters have already died. Really, they should have heeded the warning signs.
Anyway, I'm quickly coming to the point in my novel when one or two of the primary characters must bite the dust. They must be torn to pieces (yup, literally).
I find killing stranger characters easy and surprisingly satisfying. Nothing is quite so stress-relieving as writing someone's death by the teeth of a crazed jungle creature. And if the helpless victim resembles the jerk at work - all the better to make things more realistic, eh?
It's the build up to killing them off that's causing some obstacles for me. I don't want to suddenly pay too much attention to the character, but I also don't want the death to catch the reader completely by surprise. It's that balance...
So, how do you cope with the death of your characters? Do you go with a slow build or more of the direct approach with suspense? Do you treat death more as a tragedy or more as a mystery?

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18 Comments:

Blogger geosmythe said...

A death of a character always reminds me of the recent death of Dixie on All My Children. Here's why: The show brought Dixie back to great applause from everyone. I never liked the character or her-so wasn't impressed. Then I began to read that she ( the actress who played the character) had been having several disagreements with the writer of the show.

The next thing you know, Dixie had been killed off quite unexpectedly and stupidly. But, you know, it's a soap opera, and that is how they manipulate their plots.

I loved it. The writer hated the actress so she killed her off in the show. Wouldn't it be nice??


LOL!

geo

5:08 PM  
Blogger Amy Ruttan said...

I haven't really killed off one of my main characters. Though a sequel to my Enemy Enchantress will have one of my favorite characters bite the dust. I don't know how I'll cope with it.

When I read the Anne of Green Gables series and Anne's son Walter (who I loved) was killed in WWI, I mourned for him like he was my child.

So I probably won't handle it well.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Wylie Kinson said...

I've never killed anyone... yet (bwahahahah)
Great lesson from your creative writing teacher. I'll have to remember that one.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Susan Helene Gottfried said...

You're in a bit of a hard spot because you need to build up just enough pathos from us to care, yet still let us have enough detachment that we don't throw the book down in disgust and refuse to read it -- all without making the characters into stock.

I have no advice for you other than I'm glad I'm not you right now. Oh, and if you need a reader, I'll be glad to chime in 2c.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Sophisticated Writer said...

I think that teacher is right. And yes, I can imagine how hard it can be to kill one of your primary characters. One of the reasons I haven't written anything in my fictional blog - Diary of a Killer - for a while (http://madisonsrevenge.blogspot.com) is because I think a primary character has to die/be killed soon and I only have three primary characters right now. Not to mention that the blog started with the heroine/blogger's family's death and it's revenge she's after...

Any ideas? :D (email me at sophisticated.writer at gmail dot com to let me know what you think, or post a comment on my blog)

Oh and I treat death as a tragedy most of the time.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous writtenwyrdd said...

I think what I like best, if it's a minor character, if the set up is subtle enough with the foreshadowing that I feel smart for figuring it out before the big reveal, er death.

But if you read the 6th Harry Potter book, Dumbledore's death is really outrageous and out of left field. I do not like that sort of major character death at all!

BTW, is blogger logging you off about every three minutes? I keep having to log back in!

8:49 AM  
Blogger Rashenbo said...

Oh yeah... Dumbledore's death was pretty darn shocking for me! Even though I did expect it. Sigh... losing a favored character is so traumatic!

Hey Written, I've not had any account or user issues with blogger, but it seems it's been acting a little hairy because I've seen other mention of it acting wierd.

It must be Blogger time again - that time we all know and love.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Sean Lindsay said...

How your other characters react will provide a framework for readers' reactions.

If your characters ask "How did it happen?", it's a mystery.

If your characters ask "How could this have happened?", it's a tragedy.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Nicholas said...

I have bumped off several characters in both my novels without the slightest twinge of conscience!

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