Sunday, August 06, 2006

WWQ: Fictional Deaths

Writer's Weekly Question #27:
Have you ever killed one of your characters before? If so, what was the motivation behind the death?

Some kinds of fiction actively require that characters die. It's tough to have a murder mystery without a murder, and classical and Shakesperean tragedy often involve multiple deaths. War novels and spy thrillers are two more examples. People die in war, and fictional spying is more exciting if it's terribly dangerous.

I don't write in any of those genres. The truth is, I'm ridiculously tender-hearted when it comes to killing characters. I've told you before about Keni, who was created specifically to be killed, only to immediately make himself indispensible to the story. The only non-villains I've killed off in the Mâvarin novels so far were one minor selmûn character in Heirs, the Second Minister of Defense in Mages, and unnamed combatants in a couple of battles. Of my antagonists, several major villains die over the course of two books, but two of them hang around afterward, at least for a while. Rachel in The Lives and Times of Joshua Wander does this too, dying early in the story but haunting JW as a semi-science fictional ghost. Even Josh himself is sorta-kinda killed, at least as far as his original reality is concerned.

When is a death not a death? Well, there are "comic book deaths," where a character who supposedly died returns, accompanied by some unlkely explanation. There are also symbolic deaths, part of the whole Hero with a Thousand Faces thing. I do have a few symbolic deaths and rebirths, most notably with Rani. He "dies" as a human in the first chapter of Heirs of Mâvarin, and is reborn as an animal, a monster. In Mages of Mâvarin, he undergoes an experience so traumatic that someone on the AOL sf/f writing boards once asked me whether I really wanted to "destroy" the character. Yes, he undergoes another symbolic death - and he's not the only one. Another major character is irrevocably changed, so much so that he ends up a completely different person. Still another character gets the beginnings of a funeral after lying in state, despite not having died at all. Mages is filled with symbolic deaths, along with a few real ones.

Jess and Pat both wrote about J. K. Rowling reportedly killing another major character in the final Harry Potter book, possibily Harry himself, supposedly to prevent other people writing about her character when she's dead. First of all, is she planning on dying soon? Second, why should she care what's written after she's dead? Third, that sort of gambit won't work, anyway. There will almost certainly be a whole body of fan fiction (at least) that will hit the "reset button" to undo whatever they don't like in the final book. Fourth, and possibly most important, the death of a character should arise from what's happening within the story, or at least be dramatically valid. Imposing it based on non-story reasons tends to damage the credibility of the story. There were a few decisions Rowling made for the sixth book that rang false with me, and the major death at the end was one of them. I shudder to think what that final novel will be like.

Speaking of non-story reasons, though, I do have a character I've been thinking of killing off, in the book that takes place after Mages. Rutana is based on my mom, and it's weird to me that she's still alive, several years after my mom's death. Even when my mom was still around, but not well, I was thinking about whether and when her fictional counterpart should die. Rutana's death would make sense in strictly character terms, because all along I've shown her as old and frail. But unless there's a good dramatic reason for her to die, she may have to survive the next book after all.


Testing! One...

I've dipped my toe into the waters of podcasting, or rather sermoncasting. From the main St. Michael's blog:

The following link should be to an audio (wma) file of Father Smith's sermon from July 30th. Your best bet for listening to this is to download it to your computer (right click and save as...) and then doubleclick to listen on your favorite media player.
Sermon: They Didn't Understand About the Loaves!

This was basically a half hour download for me, but it worked. It's not really a podcast, 'cause it's not streaming audio or an RSS or atom feed, and 'cause there's only one of these so far. But parishioners will be able to listen to sermons at home now, which was the point of the exercise. If anyone has some advice on doing it right, please feel free to share!


Art by Sherlock

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Becky said...

:-) Seemed appropriate. But there must be free (or nearly so) services that host podcasts. We have software that can convert one audio format into various others. I think most streams are Real Audio or MP3.

And I was thinking you might be setting up Rutana for a fall. You did a good job of character development and I never missed the fact that she was elderly and frail.

Pulpit Podcast said...

Hi, we have changed our website address to: and we have changed our pricing structure. It's now $20 per podcast cassette you send to us, we host it for a year and put it onto a page for you. Please email us for more information as all of our pricing plans are now reduced due to changes in technology.