Friday, January 3, 2014

A Rule Concerning the Axing of Certain Peoples from One's Tale, or, Rule 8: To Kill a Character

     From a source of information abundantly diverse and strangely confusing, though often compelling, a line of instruction on this craft has come to me and caused me to think. In other words, my sister told me about something she found on the Internet, and I'm still thinking about it. Apparently someone came across a piece of instruction on writing that advised not to kill any major characters, as doing so demonstrates weak skills. The person who found this then proceeded to list all the writers who have done just that and been very successful.

     This caused me to think in several areas: First, is it true that to kill a major character demonstrates weakness in writing? Second, were some writers right (ha ha) to do so anyway? Third, what does it mean for me, if I do happen to kill a major character every now and again?

     In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that earlier last year I drafted several entries that spoke about killing major characters. Generally, I was against it, since there was a time or two when another writer did so, and that was just disappointing, frustrating, maddening, etc. I return now to the subject with a different point of view.

     So why was it said that killing a major character was a weak move? The answer is quite simple. Sometimes it is. Sometimes writers get bored and pull some death to keep interest. Sometimes they haven't thought a character through and need to get rid of him. Sometimes they just kill a character because they can. Often, the death of a major character is an overused device. The writers of this instruction were right, to an extent. But, as usual, there's more.

     I can't speak for other writers, but I know personally that there are times when an idea comes to me, and it feels like it has to be that way or else the story won't be right. Such are the few deaths in my works. I hope that the deaths in other authors' works are the same, and not some arbitrary tragedy thrown in for fun. The only way to know is by trying to imagine the story without it. If it's not the same, if it doesn't have the same heart, then the death is necessary. If it doesn't affect the heart of the story, it's probably better to leave it out.

     Those who said to kill a major character was a weakness were right. Those who disagreed were also right. It all depends on what has to be, according to what the author believes about the heart of the story. Usually, if it's an arbitrary thing, you can tell. If it has to be, then it has to be, and there's nothing you can really do to stop it.

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