Killing Characters

Every man dies. Not every man really lives.

First off, I absolutely hate the most recent WordPress update. It’s vile. An affront to good design. Gargantuan buttons, all the edges rounded off, menus hidden or gone entirely; the aesthetics of a toy designed for toddlers.

Second, as promised on Twitter yesterday, my more detailed musings on killing characters. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I’ve been fleshing out some of the characters who are destined to die in my story.

Yes, I wrote some of their deaths first. One I actually name dropped in the little writing exercise that inspired my novel. I didn’t have a concept for him, beyond “guy who died young and left behind a family.” But killing a guy with no back story or connection to the reader has no emotional impact. Clearly, he had to be fleshed out, or the death wouldn’t have any weight.

At the same time, I’m trying to avoid becoming like everyone’s favorite mass murdering grimdark author. Yes, this character exists primarily to die. Yes, his backstory is there mainly to make you feel it when he does die. I still don’t want readers rolling their eyes, saying “oh, it’s one of those books” when I start killing off characters.

I’m trying to give every character a purpose and arc, even if their arcs occur mostly off camera or get interrupted by a bullet. This is one area where my beta readers are going to be really helpful, I hope. I’m attached to some of these characters because I’ve spent hours building them up. I can see them in my head, they’re likable, and their deaths hit hard, but I’m just not sure if it will hit a reader the same way. I want some of them to be shocking, some painful, without falling into the GRRM cliche of “I just murdered your favorite character for the seventh time.” Frequent death, because it’s a war, but neither pointless nor random. I’m putting a lot of thought into how to do it, we’ll see if it connects as intended.

What I won’t be doing is playing POV games to trick readers into thinking these characters are protagonists. Yes, anyone and everyone could die by the end, there is no such thing as plot armor in my books. But my protagonist is clearly defined. I’m not going to pretend to subvert your expectations by killing POV characters while you try to guess who the real protagonist is. This story is centered on one man (even if there are others with hero arcs around him).

Why do you have to die to be a hero
It’s a shame a legend begins at its end
Why do you have to die if you’re a hero
When there’s still so many things to say unsaid

   – Judas Priest, Heroes End

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