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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Character Death

     Like my post on Endings, this one has been rattling in my head for awhile, mostly because it is so controversial. I guess I have to fess up to this one. I believe in character death. I strongly believe in it.
     Now, I qualify this with an extensive background in comic books where death is not a career ending injury. Through the wonders of science or the mystic mumbo jumbo of magic, death can be overcome. Now, while I believe in character death, I strongly believe characters need to stay dead! Death should be poignant, and draw real emotions from the characters and reader. If death can be overcome simply, then the reader will have no emotional attachment to it, and will not truly feel the emotions of the characters.
     But wait, there's more.
     Death should not be for shock value. By this I mean death should not simply happen to garner a reaction. It should be part of the story. The story should demand that such a death happen, and be logical. Death for the sake of death is as wrong, perhaps more, as resurrecting the dead---since it often precipitates such a resurrection.
     A character death should be appropriate. It needs to have context in the story. It needs to be logical, and while it can be somewhat surprising, there should be clues that it can or will happen. It should not simply be a random act of unprecedented violence. This has been done in the past, but has become so cliched as to become annoying. The shock value isn't even there any longer. People have become so inured to violence that they simply shrug off a death as if it was nothing, which is what it now is. The point of a character death should be the emotional impact it has on the characters and audience. The character need not be entirely likable, but there must be some kind of connection that the audience can identify with.
     All too often I have seen shock deaths, and become annoyed. Once, and perhaps once, it is permissible, since tragedies do happen, but more than once, and to layer the shock death along with other kinds of death, is too much.
     I still remember watching Serenity and seeing the spear skewer Wash with no preamble. It's only purpose seemed to be to torture Zoe, and prevent a relationship from continuing. There was no purpose for him to die in the story other than to shock and get a reaction from the audience. Why, then, did he die? I still don't know.
     The death should have meaning. Meaning for the characters, and a meaning which the reader can take with him, too. It need not be obvious, but it should have some kind of meaning.
     What does this mean? Really mean? Well, I'm likely going to kill of a character or two, or maybe even three in the course of these novels. I've long been pondering the what and the why of it, trying to determine if it would be gratuitous or not. I don't think it shall be as I am trying to lay adequate ground work for it, and make it story and character oriented, but I guess, then, to truly know whether or not I break my own rules I will have to do it and see how it is received.
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