I supposed at some point in this frenzy of #BeMeanToCharacters, that we should talk about killing them.
It’s not a subject that I like. It’s not something I’ve ever praised an author for (at least killing a character that I liked), and it’s not something I’m good at.
Let’s take a trip down memory road. My memory road, not yours. Not yet. Focus on me, please.
The time of year was December, the setting of my life was high school. I’d just started to get into epic fantasy, and someone had given me The Sword of Shannara to read. I was eating it up. I remember quite vividly the following:
I was near the end of the novel, maybe 100 pages left. The house was quiet, I curled up in the corner chair with the Christmas tree lights on and a little lamp next to me. Something probably smelled of cinnamon. The climax of the story was in full swing, and I was reading as quickly as my little eyes could take the words in.
There was fighting, there were struggles, there were people everywhere. One band of heroes ends up below the palace (spoilers, by the way). There is a great battle. Hendel—the dwarf who had already been thought dead once in the story—fought bravely. He was my favorite character.
And suddenly, he was dead.
I stopped, went back a few paragraphs, hoping that I had read it too fast. But nope. There it was, in that horrible black and white print. Goodbye to Hendel forever. This time it was permanent.
Teenagers are somewhat unstable, and overly emotional. I’d have to say I was better than most, but this made me so mad I almost threw the book across the room (something I’ve never actually done—especially since this was a loaned book). I only kept reading because I thought for sure the author would bring Hendel back.
He’d been mostly dead before.
Again. Nope. I don’t even remember the end of the book. All I could think about was how much energy I’d invested into this character, and about how now he was gone, never to return.
(Don’t start in on me with “they’re only fictional characters.” I know that. If you’ve never been this attached to a character, you’re reading the wrong books.)
That was the first experience I remember when a character I liked so much got the axe. Sure, other characters had died, but not like this. Not my favorite.
It did two things for me. First, it scared me for life. And second, this is the incident that provoked me into reading the first chapter or two of a book, then reading the last page of a book, just to see who was left. Sorry, it’s just what I do. E-books make this more difficult, by the way. And if you’ve ever read Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series…those were totally for me.
So my first thought on this in regards to #BeMeanToCharacters is more like the author being mean to the audience.
I hear George R.R. Martin is the master of this. One should never get attached to anyone in his stories. I’ve not read them, but that’s what the word on the street is. So if you need to steel yourself into killing a character, go read his stuff. I’m sure there are others. Go forth, read, gird your loins (so to speak) and get to the death scene.
People may hate me for this little vein of #BeMeanToCharacters, but it’s part of fiction. It’s part of real life. If there is no real danger, then the stakes aren’t high enough for the reader to care.
And if the reader doesn’t care, then they will put the story down. And that’s the last thing we want.