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The purpose of character deaths

Posted by Shannon Haddock on January 24, 2015 in Rants |

I was just, against my better judgement, perusing the forum of a webcomic I’ve been reading for years that’s presently got a really dramatic thing going on.  I stumbled on a phrase that pisses me off beyond all reason:  “if he’s willing to kill a character.”

Why does this piss me off so much?  It’s, honestly, a bit hard to articulate, but the biggest reason is because of the implication that not killing a character is some sort of weakness.

Here’s the thing, non-writers:  Sometimes characters aren’t killed because that’s not the story the author is trying to tell.  It’s that fucking simple.

Also, just because something has evolved from being a gag a day thing to something with dramatic plot arcs doesn’t mean it’s turned into Game of Thrones levels of dark realism.  And this doesn’t mean it’s less artistic/professional/whatever.  It just means it’s different.  Different is okay.  I like Game of Thrones, but I sure as hell don’t want a steady diet of it.

I don’t have a problem with killing characters.  Sometimes it’s the best thing for the story.  But it should never be done just to show that the author is willing to do it.  It should never be done just to show that a work is mature or dark or serious.  It should be done when it’s what the story the author is trying to tell calls for.  No other time.

If I ever get all the Universal Nexus stories kicking around in my head down on paper, there will be character deaths, but there will be a lot more miraculous recoveries from near deaths.  Why?  Because it’s, in my opinion, more interesting to see how a near death experience changes someone’s outlook on life than to kill them.  Because while I write the occasional story so dark that I worry a bit about my mental health, generally I prefer to write happier stuff.  Because when you’re writing about the top 1% of the top 1% it’s not realistic to have characters dying all the time.  I’m pretty damned sure Delta Force and the SEALs don’t lose people on every single mission.

But mostly characters don’t die that often, because that’s not the sort of story I’m trying to tell.  It’s that simple.

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