When to Kill Off Your Characters

We are supposed to grow out of sophomoric thinking. If a story is unintelligible, it’s “deep.” If it’s ugly or miserable or demoralizing, that makes it “realistic.” Goodness, beauty, and holiness are “just sentiment,” and illusions.

We don’t believe such things anymore, do we?

Nevertheless, there is a movement in fantasy–following a trend in all kinds of fiction–to establish one’s work as “serious” by making the reader feel bad. And of course the best way to do this is to impose suffering on the story’s characters, especially the ones the reader most cares about. Oh, we see this all the time! In TV, movies, novels, what-have-you. I mean, it’s so Game of Thrones.

If it makes the reader sad, it must be serious writing.

So… Wow, here’s a character the readers really like! If I kill off this character, the reader will be upset. And everyone will think, “Now that’s a serious writer for you.”

True, over the course of my Bell Mountain series, I have killed off some of my characters. I don’t do it lightly. Those characters were fun to write about. I did it because the story demanded it.

Yesterday my wife warned me, in no uncertain terms, not to knock off a particular villain who has risen to prominence in The Temple (Book 8, still under construction). “You’ll answer to me if you do,” she said darkly.

“I didn’t know you cared,” I answered.

“I am his fan  base,” she explained.

My editor thought I’d killed off Chief Uduqu in The Glass Bridge (Book 7, still needs cover art). “I was set to come up there and scalp you,” she said.

To all and sundry whom it may concern:

Message received!

5 comments on “When to Kill Off Your Characters

  1. I agree that you shouldn’t kill off a character just because people like him/her. That’s just stupid.
    I actually wrote an article on my blog a while back that talked about how disturbing it is when authors seem to be proud of sadistically putting characters through horrible things and killing them.

  2. Honestly, Lee, I thought Lord Reesh was taken from us much too soon. I rather liked the devious and clever scoundrel. Now, the Thunder King – well, he’s another story 🙂

  3. I don’t know how you keep track of all the characters as it is. The only analog I can think of is in music, and there comes a point when every detail of a song is in place and it’s as real, in my mind, as a brick wall.

    I can only surmise that to you, the creator of Obann and all that surrounds it, that world is real and the events are as real as if they happened in the world we all face daily.

  4. The “Bell Mountain” books read like a movie. There is always so much going on to keep the reader engaged – no time for boring introspection. Lord Reesh getting his comeuppances by being crushed by forces of nature was cathartic for me!

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