Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Monday, October 22, 2007

Killing Your Darlings

No, I don't mean the figurative saying so many writers adhere to (which means, basically, ripping out your favorite scenes). I mean killing off one of your MCs at the end of the book. (And I'm not talking about when the author follows the MC's life to its natural conclusion either.)

As a reader, I hate this. I spent x-number of pages becoming vested in the characters and I almost always feel cheated when the author kills someone off for no apparent reason. I hate this as a writer, too. I'm all about finding solutions. I love putting my characters in sticky situations and then writing a way out of them.

I'm not saying no one ever dies in my books. That would be silly. I'm writing thrillers and mysteries here, folks. Someone has to die to make the books what they are. And therein lies the key to the characters I kill off. People only die if it's absolutely necessary to the story. I'm willing to offer up a few minor characters to the writing gods. They can't have my heroes, though.

And since I am the writer, I can find a way for my heroes to get out of whatever impossible fix I've written them into. I don't understand why some writers feel like there is no other possible answer than death for their heroes. Kinda sad, really. Death to killers? Definitely. Death to villians? Perhaps. But death to heroes is something I will never understand.

Usually if I read a book where the hero dies at the end, I always find a way the hero could have survived without damaging the storyline. I could give you an example, but I don't want to spoil any plots if I can help it. (To that end, understand there will be probably be plot-spoilers in the comment chain, so read at your own risk.)

So tell me, have you ever read a book where the hero died at the end, and you thought it was necessary?* Give me an example of why someone had to be thrown into the volcano of a plot to appease the writing gods. Or better yet, pick out an example of a book where the hero dies at the end, and then give me a solution for how it could have been written with the hero surviving.

*special points to anyone who mentions the one book I can think of where the MC (and title character) dies and it is absolutely necessary to the storyline.

ETA. I was discussing this subject with my daughter and she brought up a MC death that was very necessary to the story. I didn't like it, and I wished she could have been saved, but after studying the book at length, I see why the author had to kill her off. (It's probably not a well-known book, but if you're dying of curiosity, let me know in the comments here and I'll out it tomorrow, too.)


Erica Ridley said...

Bridge to Terabithia? She's not the main main character, but a main character, and her death was pivotal to the MC's char arc. Jo in Little Women was probably realistic, but I'm not sure it was necessary...

I don't necessarily mind characters dying, but what I don't like is characters "dying" only to spring back to life due to some fluke. I'm sure you can guess which book I mean (and it might even be the book where you thought it was necessary!) but I always feel as cheated in those situations as I do for it-was-a-dream plot twists and the like. Also recently read a book where the hero died at the very end (actual hero, heroine's love interest) and came back to life deus ex machina style (literally, a deity re-granted him life) and I wanted to chuck the book against the wall, despite its NYT best-seller status. I want the heroes and the heroines to get themselves out of their own trouble, not have some fluke or magic or a god swing down and undo the black moment. B/c that cheapens it if they weren't the masters of their own fate.

Wow, I totally took this off into a new direction. Sorry to hijack the plot thread! =)

Alex Adams said...

I can think of one, but I know you haven't read it yet, so I'm not sayin' nuthin' :D

WordVixen said...

It's not...

Spoiler alert people.
The Reincarnationist is it? Cuz technically we don't know that.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Erica - Nope, that's not the one. Ack, I hated that book. That's one of the ones that if I'd written it, I would've found a way to save her.

Alex - =op If you send it, I will read.

Wordvixen - Not that one either, but I just finished it. I thought it was pretty clear Josh was passing on to his next incarnation. I thought that he could've been saved, too.

I promise to reveal the name of the book tomorrow.

Erica Ridley said...

I should not have read the comment trail!!!

I was even warned...


B.E. Sanderson said...

ACK! I'm sorry, Erica. But it's still a book worth reading. It doesn't happen until the end of the last page. Like the last few paragraphs.

Now, for the last spoiler. The book I was talking about was The World According to Garp. Of course, in that book everyone is dead by the end, but that's because Irving follows each character's life to its conclusion. The only real shocker is Garp's death.

WordVixen said...

I'm so sorry Erica! I couldn't resist asking though... And it's definitely worth the read- knowing the end doesn't spoil it at all. Particularly since the end is about two sentences short of an end.

And in regards to the "dying only to spring back to life"- if it's the one I'm thinking of, it felt cheap to me too. However, I wasn't expecting it because I assumed she wouldn't use the easy way out (and was wrong). So... technically it worked. I think.