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A. Lynn
January 24th, 2006, 09:30 PM
"How many characters do you need? I would answer: as few as you can get away with to tell your story fully." - Quote: Oscar Collier/Frances Spatz Leighton in 'How to Write & Sell your First Novel'

Good book by the way, not bad at all, and another pusher of the idea that ALL characters must be streamlined and included in the story for a reason and that you can't just spread characters here and there.

But I have about four characters implemented in my WIP Novel and they're main purpose is to die!!! [Insert gruesome laugh here].

Okay, but seriously. To use said characters to prove a point that the world in the novel is bold, destructive, and perhaps to put readers on a little edge and make them feel like they don't quite know who is going to die. Is this idea bad?

I'm a fan of having an almost literal LEGION of supporting characters that may not necessarily carry the weight of the story on their shoulders, but for me personally, they make me feel like the world they're in is real. The world doesn't just float around the main characters, there are others there, some people they like and dislike, and some people that will make it and yet other friends/fiends that won't.

So I debut this novel with Supporting Character 1, and they die in the chapter of which they are introduced (Bwahahaha!). Yes, you learn the name, you learn their anxieties, you are with them as they face danger and come out of unscathed (or maybe not).

Character 2 debuts same chapter as Character1, has no name only features and the persona of innocence, and dies at the end of the book to hopefully spread the idea that the innocence is a rare and often vandalized commodity in this setting.

Character 3 and 4 die alongside character 2. Ironically, character3 and 4 are a decidedly rugged comedy relief that some may or may not feel sorry to see go.

So let me hear some shout-outs and opinions from SFFworld :) I know somebody has something to say about it! Let's hear it!

January 24th, 2006, 10:30 PM
Do you have any main charcacters that survive?

I can relate. I confess... I sadistically like it when heartwrenchingly a character is killed in a story. Why do you think Romeo and Juliet was such a hit and is so even today? I like tragedies as do many of us. The more I cry over a story the better the book! How does that make sense? :confused:
Most of the time the death comes at the end of the story though but sometimes they do it in the middle.
A good one I can think of are LOR - Boramir. Tiger and Del did a scene of He is dead...wait no he's not, like Gandolf in LOR. I don't much care for that but can be pulled off if it is written well.

For your story specifically, it sounds like those characters may have a purpose
spread the idea that the innocence is a rare
or theme. If you are a good writer then yes I think it could have the effect you desire. Keep people on edge.
Good Luck!

January 25th, 2006, 01:37 AM
I can't tell you how many times I've typed some version of the words; "And then everyone dies and the bad guys win. The End." on the bottom of the screen.

Then I come back the next day and erase it, and start telling the story again.

Usually I aviod killing characters unless it feeds in to the story in some way. Which, considering how much I like mysteries, is bound to happen. I try to be careful about it, though, it's too easy to write it wrong.

I've read way too many stories where someone dies, and the rest of the characters react in the most non-typical ways imaginable. (Here, let me drop your wounded head on the sidewalk and beat my chest and vow that you will be avenged. Then I'll run off, leaving you where you fell to go after the bad guy.) I keep expecting to find out these people have hidden mental illnesses, or they're aliens or something.

When I have a character who dies, it's more effective when it's someone I hadn't planned on killing when I started the story.


January 25th, 2006, 02:15 AM
Character 2 debuts same chapter as Character1, has no name only features and the persona of innocence, and dies at the end of the book to hopefully spread the idea that the innocence is a rare and often vandalized commodity in this setting.

This caught my eye. To not give a character a "name" in a peice of work is very hard to do.

Let me try and explain.

What do your other characters call him/her? If it is even "hook Nose" or "Green Eyes" it is a reference, both for the "characters", and more importantly the reader. Even if you don't give them a name like Burt, Fred or Sandra, you have "named" them and honestly, I believe, you have to name them in some way, to allow the reader to know when this character is on stage, so to speak. Without a type of "name" it could get confusing.

I am speaking from experience here, I have a character whose "sex" (i.e. if they are male or female) is not stated for about a third or more of the book. This character is treated by the other characters as an "it" the character even thinks of themselves as an "it" as their past and humanity has been stripped from them in a certain way. It was the hardest thing I have ever written. To not hint at the sex, not to colour the reactions of the other characters with the instinctive way one behaves to a member of the opposite sex. Only one other character is, in the first part of the book, aware of the character's "sex", but even they won't admit it to themselves or acknowledge it, as to do so would wake to many painful memories and plunge both of them, not only into danger, but into a lot of heartache. It was very difficult, even now I am not sure I suceeded as well as I could have.

As to the death of characters, each time you kill someone, that death must affect the story and characters the same way throwing a stone into a pond does. The ripples go out affecting everything they touch in different ways. Never waste the power you have to alter your plot, by the death of a character. It is one of the most useful tools you have. You can use it to show who the rest of your characters react to such and by doing so show a lot of their personality and the type of society they live in.

January 25th, 2006, 08:05 AM
I don't get what you're asking. Is the question: "Is it bad to introduce characters just for the purpose of having them die (thereby proving a point)?"

Readers don't like to be toyed with. I mean, if you make them feel for a character and then it's "Too bad, because he's dead :p " and that was the only reason, then that's irritating. If it comes across like an intellectual excercise.

But if not, I don't see what's wrong with a large cast of support characters, even if some of them are morituri.

I think it's important to show how these people affected others and as Holbrook says, how their death too affects others. Otherwise they're just lifeless sock puppets.

January 25th, 2006, 09:05 AM
Okay, but seriously. To use said characters to prove a point that the world in the novel is bold, destructive, and perhaps to put readers on a little edge and make them feel like they don't quite know who is going to die. Is this idea bad?

Not in the least, the best exponent of this tactic I've read is James Barclay. He is perhaps even too ruthless at times :) But in his two Raven trilogies you never know who is going to cop it, every character is game and some of the characters he killed off made my jaw drop. All this investment in a character (four or five books in some cases) and then *snuff* out, out brief candle. As a device I don't think you have to balance it out either, certainly the reader does like stability but the writer isn't tied to what the reader likes. Tbh it's suprising it isn't used more in sf&f, so used have we become to the indestructible warrior stereotype.

January 25th, 2006, 11:15 AM
In my WIP every main character dies, one main character goes mad (before dying), the "Evil" is not defeated (but neither does it triumph) and there is still a somewhat "Happy" ending.

To actually respond to the first post, it is acceptable/preferred that in a mortal world filled with perils and conflict some characters will die, be wounded/scarred/maimed/crippled, suffer "shell-shock", mental breakdown, emotional breakdown, go bankrupt, be thrown in prison, execution, spill soup on their best suit, and generally suffer all kinds of maladies (grand mal, petit mal, and everything in between). If not, then why the heck would anyone read it?

But my question is, why should I care about hordes of minor characters kicking the bucket? Really, seriously, what is the point of that? If I have no connection with the character, why should I care if they die, especially if the death does not drive the plot along? Killing off characters just for the sake of doing it gets tedious after a while. My advice, FWIW, is avoid overdoing anything, especially things that do not really matter.

ETA: I guess I agree with Holbrook's last paragraph.

January 25th, 2006, 11:42 AM
Personally, I think that giving a short-lived supporting character any significant focus in anything other than a supportive capacity is pretty pointless. Giving a character their own idiosyncrasies and special background and little mannerisms that don't do anything to support the rest of the story will only serve to slow down the pace and blur the focus of your story.

That said, I'm not saying you should make the character two dimensional and wooden.

I think you should take more of a 24 approach to it. 24 is really good about creating characters that seem far more significant than they actually are to the story, but they don't do it by putting a focus on them. Instead, they use them for exactly the purpose they should be in the story: In a supportive role. For instance, John Walsh in the first season survives for about two, maybe three episodes tops, but any focus they put on him has to deal with either the protagonist (Jack Bauer) or has to deal with the plot itself.

For instance, in order to make the audience know that Walsh is important, and has served his country well and is a hero, they relate it to Jack specifically. When Walsh says something about being a burden to Jack or something because he got shot and is slowing them down, Jack tells him to shut up, and says something along the lines of "I owe you my life!" This essentially tells the audience that not only is he a hero and has done things in his past, but he's also important to Jack. And since everybody loves Jack, he's important to us as well.

But to go on and on and on about any supportive character, just to toy around with the readers when he dies is for the most part not going to make the reader care very much. They'll probably just feel like it didn't make a whole lot of sense for him to die.

So if I were you, I'd keep the whole telling of these supportive character's anxieties and stuff to a minimum, only really revealing anything about them when it's important to the main character/s or the plot itself.

Also, you should keep in mind that just because the truth of the matter is that every person in the world is their own person, if the POV is of me, it's not really important to the story (or to me) to get the life stories of every person I walk past or shake hands with or even kill. In my POV, the only idiosyncrasies that are going to get mentioned are the one that directly relate to me, or have something to do with the plot (like they seem to blink too hard when they're lying, or they look away, or they have a hard time keeping focus and they keep glancing at the same spot on a wall letting me know that the hidden box I'm looking for must be over there). The rest of it really just slows it all down, and that's never good.

January 25th, 2006, 12:11 PM
Okay, but seriously. To use said characters to prove a point that the world in the novel is bold, destructive, and perhaps to put readers on a little edge and make them feel like they don't quite know who is going to die. Is this idea bad?

Isn't that the staple method of slasher movies? :D

What you want to avoid is the Star-Trek syndrom; if you haven't seen them before, and they've got a name, they die. That gets old fairly quickly.

And remember that there are fates worse than death. You can show the worlds depravity by having them maimed and reduced to beggar status, or they go insane, or they go bitter and hate all their former friends... There's no limit to an author's sadism. Vary your depravity.

(Actually, you can do that kind of things to your main characters. Does your protagonist wizard really need legs all through the novel to resolve the plot?)

I quite like walk-on/walk-off point of views (poeple who have no relevance to the story, apart from being collateral damage or part of the infra-structure). Terry Pratchett has lots of them. Michael Crichton uses them for introductions and epilogues, quite often. I suspect, many other authors use them, too.

The question is: Do you create a pattern that is not part of the concept? (For example, do all supporting characters who get a point-of-view-scene die?) If you find such patterns, it's often a good idea to break it up (or work it out as theme; but that's harder to do and might interfere with the rest of the story.)

January 25th, 2006, 01:02 PM
Again with the authors can't do it this way and the authors can't do it that way!

I am allowed to kill off anybody in any way I see fit at any time, thank you very much. Worse, I am allowed to have a character seem to die and then be miraculously alive. I can have a character have an identical, previous unknown twin who takes his place when he dies. I can have a character die, be drawn back from the dead, and have some sort of physical disfigurement that jibes with an ancient prophecy. I can have a character who is a god and cannot be killed, except on Thursdays by forcing him to eat buttered scones. I can make a frog talk. I can make a spoon think. And then die.

Basically, if you're doing anything big, say such as a war, a lot of spear carriers may end up dying, without names and without much info on them. Nobody ever cares about the infantry, poor blokes. Those deaths are for a reason. If you have a supporting minor character, and you offer his pov and kill him off, and it has nothing really to do with the main plot, you still have a reason for doing it. That reason may simply be that you wanted to see if you could do it, or if you did it, what it would be like, though usually it's a bit more complicated than that.

And if your dear friends read the story and say, "why do you have that little character die, it seems gratuitous and doesn't advance the plot," you may take it out or you may leave it in. And if your readers say, "how could you kill George?," you can smile and say, "So that you'd ask how I could possibly kill George." That's a perfectly good reason, right there.

One of the best deaths ever is of course the sperm whale in "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams. Whatever faults the movie version may have had, it was very sweet that they left the whale in, since it has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. Yet, it is a moment of vital importance to readers and greatly memorable.