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A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Killing Her Gently

My family members laugh sometimes when I announce that I've just killed off Frank, or Emily or any number of lurking characters, mainly because I don't qualify that statement. They breezily inform their friends that their mom 'is always killing people'. I've gotten some extremely disturbed looks because of it.

I remember reading David Farland's Runelords series. The first time he killed off a main character, I was jolted out of my seat. "You CAN'T do that!" I yelled, shocked.
"Sure I can," he proceeded to prove. It got me thinking about books in general. We think that because a character is handsome and talented (and the main character for Heaven's sake) they'll certainly be the one at the end of the book spiking the ball into the end zone.

However, life isn't like that. People don't get to finish what they were working on. They don't make it to the Olympics or to the New York Ballet as the Grand Ballerina. They don't go back to the spy base and sip a cocktail and snog the gorgeous file clerk. Their bodies get old and pain-ridden. We get fat and can't run as fast or do those karate kicks or tour jettes or our bum knees will go out.

For the most part they get sick and die. Or a car hits them. Or they actually do fall off that cliff they are trying to hang onto. And when they get to the bottom, they splat messily instead of limping away to use their cell phone for a ride. I enjoy Louis McMasters Bujold's Vorkosigan books for that reason. Her mc gets badly hurt all the time. And he's aging with the books. It's harder for him to do the hot-doggin' things he used to do when he was young. He has a wife and children who actually love him and are waiting for him to come limping back home.

What it all boils down to, though, is that we writers are in the business of hope. We hold the character out there on his spit over the fires of opposition, but at some point we let him climb back down off the spit and join the feast, for the most part. We want him to be what we cannot, so often: successful. We want to know that despite our foibles and miseries, there is a chance for us at the ends of our stories, to pull off the Great Escape.

So how, then does one jive nature with hope? Justice and mercy? To kill or not to kill? It's a heady feeling, contemplating character assassination. There is a certain responsibility to the reader to tell the story the way it was supposed to be told. I almost feel as if my characters are telling their own stories, somehow. I just hold the 'pen' and wait for them to tell me what to write. The more 'true' your story, the more your readers will cleave to it, and take it into themselves. I think that's why lots of trash romances urk the living daylights out of me. Somebody in the story needs to be butt ugly or have a speech impediment.

That said, I'm writing the ending scene for my new book first. I'm hoping it'll tear your heart out and stomp on it, and then...maybe a glimmer...

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