Killing a character

This is not a pleasant subject. An author sometimes has to kill a character to advance a story, even though it might mean a hole has been created. Sometimes the death must be shown in all its details to meet the meme of “show, don’t tell.” Deaths of bad guys and deaths in wars are fairly straightforward and, by definition, move the story forward. And, pace George R R Martin, the killing of a good guy requires skill and appropriate homage. My first kill is a good guy who is barely introduced before he is killed. Less than 1200 words are the scope of his life. Yet readers say he is well enough drawn for them to feel sorrow, particularly when the main male character grieves his loss. In fact, what they remember is the nobility of the main character’s mourning from which they draw a strong sense of worth in the dead man.

The second person I kill is a bad sorcerer who wants to take over and rule the world. He tortures one class of people for fun, killing them gratuitously. He gets his comeupance in the end when he is met by another sorcerer who does not believe the world needs a despotic ruler. It should be noted that the second person killed is the one who killed the first one. So there is a form of justice in his death.

The rest of the book sees a death by the rebounding of a magical spell meant to kill another. A few deaths appear in the battle that makes up most of the last quarter of the book, although the battle has few set pieces. It is more a running battle in a guerilla confrontation, where deaths can occur naturally. The wholesale slaughter in many books has no role in my writing. Nor do I think that killing a character is the correct way for removing him or her from the narrative. There are innumerable other ways to get rid of a character. Or maybe the character does not belong in the book, and needs to be removed ab initio. (Sorry, legal jargon still has a hold on me. It means “from the beginning” which I could have just as easily written, couldn’t I?).

The takeaway from this is that I abhor violence, and recognize that it has minimal utility in any world I create. I know it exists, and would not write plausible stories if I ignored it completely. To the extent that it is necessary to the story, it is there, but is not glorified in any way. Instead, the outcome of the violence is shown in as realistic a way as I can. If a character wrestles with a beast 50 times his size and manages to win, he will not be high-fiving his buddies. She will collapse in exhaustion on the ground. She will need medical attention, or what passes for it in my fantasy worlds. He or she, in other words, has consequences from overuse of energy. Yes, I write fantasy, but there are still rules.

What do you think? Please comment!

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