Here's a question for readers: Have you ever read a book where the author killed off a character and it just felt wrong? Like they did it for no reason, or like it was purely a plot device? On the flipside, have you read a book where you knew all along a character had to die, and the way it happened was exactly right?
And to writers: Have you ever wondered whether or not you should kill a character? Ever pondered exactly how you should do it? Ever tried writing it one way and realized it wouldn't work, or didn't feel right?
|I've been listening to Thrift Shop a lot.|
Lately, I've been thinking about this from a writer's standpoint. I've killed a lot of characters in a lot of different ways. And while I've always put a lot of thought into how it would affect the world and the characters, I've never been worried about if it was "okay" to kill a character, or if killing them was necessary. I'm not in the business of massacring characters, so the ones I have killed have always been obvious to me in both reason and execution.
But now I have a story where a lot of people are eventually going to die. I realized only recently that this was going to happen. And they're not random, quickly-introduced secondary characters, either; these are key players. So with each one, I have to run through this checklist to make sure the death is appropriate:
1.) Reason: Is there a reason for killing this character? A good one? Besides convenience, as a plot device, or to tug the readers' heartstrings? If it's a minor character, this isn't such a big deal. But if they're part of the main cast, you have to think long and hard about this. A lot of writers enjoy causing their characters pain, but before you go godmode and kill people off just to cause havoc, think of why you're doing it, and what it's going to do to your story. Trust me: it's fun to cause chaos, but organized chaos is so much better. As the author, you always want to be in control of what's going on in the story (and don't give me any of that "but my characters do what they want, teehee" crap--remind me to stay far away next time your fictional creations get the better of you) and killing characters without good reason is not the way to do that.
2.) Effect: What will this death do to your world? It's characters? How will the plot progress now that this character isn't there? How will other characters' decisions be affected by this death, and how will those decisions affect the plot? The thing I hate most is when a character--a central character, mind you--dies, and basically nothing changes. Or the MC thinks about the death, but beyond that it has no effect on anything. (If this is what the author is going for--a death that is heartbreaking in the fact that the world didn't notice at all--then congratulations and kudos, that is amazing, please continue doing what you are doing.)
3.) Execution: Some of the ways I've thought of killing the characters in this story have shocked even me. And shocking me with a death scene is pretty hard to do. Now, I'm one of those people who believe that the YA category bars no extremes. Dark themes, dark situations, dark thoughts. And anyone who has read my stuff knows that I don't pull my punches. But I do think there's a proper way to execute a death scene, a way that will deliver the punch you want, but won't scar your readers for life. For example: in this story, I'm considering burning one of the central characters alive. That disturbs me. I've thought long and hard about it, and I think that's what I'm going to do. But I know I have to do it carefully. While YA is open to all topics and subject matter, and all forms of expressing it, I don't plan on mentally torturing people with the gruesome details of a burning. That part is not necessary to the death, and I think the idea of burning alive is enough to get the point across. So, while again it may be fun or cathartic to kill characters, or to think of the most gruesome ways to off them, you really have to think about the way you're doing it. Is it necessary to show the death in detail? No. (Same goes for sex scenes, but that's a different post.) It's enough to know why you're killing a character a certain way, and to make sure it's clear to the reader. No grisly tidbits needed.
I'm always interested to know readers' and writers' thoughts on this topic, so how do you guys deal with death scenes/killing characters? As writers or as readers?