Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Killing Off Characters a guest post by Robert Day

Killing off Characters...

A few readers of The Nexus Wars Saga have lamented the untimely deaths of liked characters. I am hoping to explain my reasons in this blog.

"There can be no triumph without loss. No victory without suffering. No freedom without sacrifice."

In many fantasy or even heroic tales, the use of loss, whether of love, life, freedom, senses etc, is used to help define the protagonist or major characters, providing depth and motive. We all remember Inigo Montoya's oft-used line "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.". Also, Simba used the memory of his father, Mufasa, to overcome his own guilt to confront his evil uncle, and it is Scar's whispered words that he killed Mufasa that gives a young Simba the strength and resolve to fight his uncle. Other examples, like the sacrifice of his father, which gives a well-known Drow Elf the strength to leave the Underdark, or that of Obi-wan falling to Darth Vader, witnessed by
the then untrained Jedi Luke Skywalker. Countless such examples exist, and countless times our protagonists or characters use these deaths to fuel their drive, to shape their passion, to justify their actions.

The question I hear you ask is "Why?"

The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is one of depth and motivation. As human beings we constantly come across emotions such as pain, loss, fear, uncertainty, anxiety etc. These feelings and emotions guide us, manipulate us and mold us as individuals. They define our actions or lack thereof, as well as our reactions. When we see the self-same consequences of these influences shaping characters in a book, do we then not relate with said characters? Does the character move to a more complex state, enabling the reader to relate on a deeper level? Even though these feelings
and emotions are not real, our minds make them real. So the more the reader can relate with the character, the more vivid and personal the story is for the reader, true? When we ponder if this correlation exists, we only have to remind ourselves how many times we have heard somebody say that they did not relate to a character, while another person will say how they felt as if they practically lived that character. This is one of the many challenges facing an author: how to engage a reader and keep them reading! While this endeavor is not limited to one or two methods, one must also judge which is best for their story, given the constraints of length and flow, which faces all writers. Some writers, the best writers, use multiple methods seamlessly, combining them with an √©lan that is the envy of many would-be writers, but alas the playground of but a few.

So, while I am aware of this as a writer, I readily admit that it is not in the forefront of my mind when I write. My books are a result of my imagination bringing to life a story which only it can give credence to. The expectations and ideals of my imagination has no doubt been similarly guided and defined by the works of the many authors I have read up until this point. I write what I feel I would enjoy, in the hopes that other readers are like myself. Should this not happen, then so be it, it leaves me as I was before. But in the event of just one person feeling as I do, is that not a wondrous thing for anybody with a story to tell?

So for anybody reading this who might have lamented the demise of a character in either Demon Gates or Ashar'an Rising, feeling the action was unnecessary, I say sorry. Not for the act itself, but for failing to give the action the necessary motive. Perhaps, in Book 3, should a similar demise befall somebody you might have come to love or admire, you can look beyond the action itself, and see the bigger picture and how it relates to the story and the characters. Believe me when I say I take no delight in killing off my creations, nor, should I think, would any author.

~Robert Day


  1. This post has come at a really good time for me as I think through the reason I killed off one of my characters. ;-)

  2. Generally speaking I don't like it when characters are killed off.
    I know writers give a lot reasons but very, very rarely have I ever seen it worth the sacrifice. Maybe Obi Wan in Star Wars.

    I am trying to read all the A to Z blogs, but coming back to the ones I really like.
    Looking forward to seeing what you do all month!

    The Other Side
    The Freedom of Nonbelief

  3. Since you like to read, I wondered if you might be interested in learning more about cryptic crosswords. If so, this is a link to a post I did recently on cryptic crossword clues that involve anagrams. Cryptic Crossword Clues - Anagrams