|Dealing with death|
|Word Ninja Wrote this Article.|
|Wednesday, 06 July 2011 00:00|
All good things must come to an end. That includes lives, even those of your characters. It’s not always easy to let go of a character that you’ve built up from nothing but a spark of an idea. But as writers, it’s good to know how to handle death and dismemberment when it arises.
When your character’s timely, or untimely, demise occurs, it’s best for you to be ready. Yes, even if you didn’t plan on having character Q kick that rock that resulted in a cave-in, making his head go squish, you have to have a backup plan for how to deal with it. You could just take a few steps back in the story and have character Q trip before kicking the rock, saving his life. Or you can figure out how the plot carries on without character Q.
And, depending on the story, there’s always the options of an afterlife. Whether it’s a corporeal zombie-like afterlife, or one of those more immaterial ghost-y type afterlifes, it makes writing the story a lot smoother if you know the morbid mechanics of your universe before character Q bites the proverbial dust. Just as with political systems, magic constraints, and even travel methods, how your characters die requires a bit of thought and planning on your part.
I've yet to kill any of my main characters in any of my stories. I like to think that it's merely a matter of they're still needed further down the plot, and killing them would raise all sorts of complications I don't have the science to fix later.
However, I have few qualms about psychological trauma, severe physical maiming, or your good old fashioned boot to the head injuries. You'd be amazed at how effective a bit of psychological scarring can be to mess with a character. Much more than putting him or her six feet under. If a character must die, I try to make it worthwhile. Unless they're cannon fodder, in which case it's never a primary character. Even a secondary character will manage to do something useful in dying, even if it's providing a bit of cover for his comrades.
I've also made a point of not trying to kill my characters every chapter, as those close calls get a bit silly after a while. Akin to those 70s/80s serials, where your dashing hero dies in a car explosion, but no, wait, he secretly jumped out at the last second and was hidden due to the camera angle.
Yeah, no. Those types of cliffhangers don't work any more. Unless you're working on a parody, in which case have as many hidden angle cliffhangers as you please. Otherwise I tend tend to get bored pretty quickly.
In the end, it'll come down to just how willing you are to kill...fictional beings of your own creation. Killing factual people, of your own creation or otherwise, is frowned upon. Killing plants is still open to debate.