View Full Version : The cost of killing
March 27th, 2003, 07:12 AM
In some novels, characters kill indiscriminately, without a trace of remorse. In the real world (from what I've read/heard), even seasoned professionals have problems with this. I think its important to show a real moral impact in taking lifes. Even the hoard of goblins a hero slays have families! But, on the other hand, it would be easy to get bogged down in this aspect, and end up with a very grim piece of writing. So how do you handle this?
March 27th, 2003, 09:39 AM
I think you've hit on one of the classical literary distinctions between the "good guy" and the "bad guy." Bad guys kill to advance their own personal agendas. Good guys only kill when 1) every other means of conflict resolution has been exhausted, and 2) the action of killing is performed in the interest of the common good.
I agree that it is necessary to show a moral impact on the taking of life. This is a very serious thing. In the context of a story there are many different ways of handling this. Generally in order to get a reader to "root for" the hero as he is slaying the goblins, one must make the reasons for the battle clear. (I have however read a great number of stories that start in the middle of the battle where it's just "assumed" that the hero is in the right.)
Here is something to ponder. Nature works on on the premise of survival of the fittest. An army consisting of soldiers that stop to consider the morality of the situation every time they have to make a kill, and get emotionally bogged down will be easily overrun by an army that is "emotionally blunt" - all other factors being equal.
Our jobs as writers however aren't simply to chronicle the action. We are charged with a duty to explore the human condition amidst speculative circumstances.
March 27th, 2003, 09:43 AM
1) It depends on the character's Personality. An assassin killing people easily is only natural. A kitchen boy doing the same is un-natural.
2) It depends on the Situation. For instance, if someone is cornered, he'll certainly kill somebody to get out. Of course, the character of the individual can affect this greatly. So, if you have a cornered sofa-sitting princess cornered by two thugs, while she holds a dagger in her hand, you weight the odds. Situation (kill or die) and Personality (not used to killing).
3) It depends on the Setting. How do the people there view death and killing? If you have a modern-day setting, you know that killing is considered unacceptable. If you have a prehistoric world, then killing is a way of life.
4) It depends on the Laws of the community. Is someone punished if they kill? And, if they are not punished, then why not killing someone, anyway?
5) [b]Religion.[/b} What does their god(s) tell (being real gods or people-created gods) them? To kill or not? Good or bad? Good sometimes, bad sometimes?
Hope I helped.
March 27th, 2003, 10:16 AM
One of the things I think about now, when I'm writing about the moral cost of killing, is my wife's uncle. He was in special forces starting back in Vietnam, and stayed in the Army through the 80s. Now retired, he's in therapy and has to spend time in a isolation chamber to handle what he's done.
But- I'm guessing the cost of human life has risen as we become more 'civilized', and that cost differs from culture to culture. In Saudi Arabia, they still hold public beheadings. Seeing something like this in living technicolor has to change someone after awhile.
Good points from both of you- things to consider.
March 27th, 2003, 04:38 PM
I actually base the whole progression of my main character and his obssession with life. He won't kill anything, not even to defend his own daughter. When he was young he watched his father murder a man. Since then his life has been dedicated to peace. He refused to hurt anyone. However, at one point he is forced to kill someone in order to maintain the lives of his family and county. It almost compleatly distorys him.
I also think it depends on the character and situation. My character is at the point where killing someone, even the bad guy, is the most horrible thing that he could ever do.
My whole book is based around his reactions to this. I guess, the best advice I can give is to pay attention to the situation.
March 27th, 2003, 06:08 PM
I was once criticised because one of my main characters cared too much about killing somebody to save another person. Even though he was praised for his actions in the story he still suffered because he'd never taken a life before and couldn't help thinking about it. It wasn't something I laboured throughout the story but it did get a mention, perhaps fantasy readers have become so used to death and murder in what they read that it strikes them as odd when somebody stops and says, "Hum, not sure how I mfeel about that."
On the other hand my only finished book centres around somebody who has decided to do whatever it takes to get revenge and he kills indiscriminately and even stops justifying it himself after a while, it just becomes something that he does.
March 27th, 2003, 07:48 PM
I tend to work with the cold blooded killing types, in fact I have had a habit of making the hero more vicious than the villian. It is generally odd but can produce an interesting story.
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