- There is nothing like a good death -
After a recent review of the Last Mask, which was saying about the amount of death in the book, I was starting to wonder if I was a violent person, who likes to bump off his cast at the drop of a hat. I was also looking over some old files for a fantasy book I was returning to redraft, and as I looked over the cast list next to a few of the names was the word ‘Dead.’ A lot of people were not going to make it out of that first book, and we are not talking about minor nobodies. So I pondered this deathly situation, and came to a few conclusions.
The Last Mask is front loaded with death; the trouble is I am the only one who knows the pattern of the whole series, and the other two books currently have a much lower death toll… currently.
But what this does is make the world appear to be deadly. There may only be a couple of death after the first book, but the reader is on guard and aware of what a deadly place this is from what has been established in the first book. Once you paint this world where anyone can die then you have established the rules.
- It is not safe around here -
A good death of a major character sets up the whole tone for the series. The reader will believe that no one is safe, and any of these people could drop dead at a moment’s notice. If we look at a couple of classic TV series we can see how this worked.
Taking the original Star Trek, we never really felt that the main cast were ever in danger. They might catch a disease and age rapidly, but we knew they would be back to normal by episode end. The only ones in danger were the nobodies in the red shirts, and that became an exploitable joke in the end.
Now if we look at a series like Babylon 5, they killed of major characters in the first series and this gave us a world where we were never sure who was safe, a world where we could fear for the characters and be shocked at what was to come. They built a more believable world where we could feel for the people and not know if someone was going to make it out alive that episode. Peril was believable.
So it is always good to have a major death in establishing a world, even if that character is only made to die.
- Bringing them back from the dead -
Once you have killed of your important character it is not unheard of to bring them back again, Marvel do it all the time, in fact I think they fit the graves with revolving doors to save time. So if you are tempted to do this, and yes I have a few that do plan on a return, then you should at least have their death have a meaning on the character. The individual has to have been changed by the experience. Imagine if a character lost an arm, it is going to have a big effect on them, so why shouldn’t death change them in a big way.
It is important that they have to be changed in some way to make killing them off in the first place relevant, otherwise death just becomes nothing, a minor inconvenience.
- Potter must die... maybe -
The final problem with death involves falling in love with your characters and not wanting to kill them off when the time comes for the deed. There is a certain author, who shall not be named, who created a boy wizard, popular with a few people. Now if you followed the books to the end then it seem to make more sense that they main character should have sacrificed himself at the end to defeat the Big Bad, as he seemed to have a part of that person inside him. But I believe that the author chickened out at the end, no doubt worried about horribly scarring numerous young girls around the world, and he lived.
If you are going to kill a character then don’t chicken out. Give them a good, bloody, send-off that will be memorable to the reader, make their life have meaning and their death an event that will stay in the readers mind. And if girls worldwide are bawling in tears from the loss then you have done your job well.
'The Art of Death' use it well and it will reward you and the reader.