I hate it when TV show deaths feel like the resolution of a contract dispute, especially when I care about the character – it gives the death (in context of the story) a wasted feeling. The death should mean something to continuing a story instead of an ending. (To be fair to television and movie series, they face a challenge from business factors and actor independence (and death, as with Richard Harris in the Harry Potter films) that sometimes leaves them without a choice – it’s hard to substitute a new actor for the original (they managed inserting Michael Gambon into Dumbledore very nicely), especially if the audience cares about them (The same reason that an audiobook series needs to be performed by the same narrator (or someone who can sound remarkably like them) – you can say you as the writer are the main person the audience is interacting with, but they know differently.)
I only have to deal quite often with characters who decide they want to go a different way in my stories – I find I’m better off in the long run not to argue with them – they know their tenancies and motivations better than I do. I let them have their head and see where it takes the story, and if it’s REALLY somewhere it shouldn’t go, I slip some influences earlier in the story to nudge them a little. Working that way, they still have their autonomy but I get to have a say in where the story’s going at the same time (and maybe accounting for how they will react makes the story more believable.)
But back to DEATH…
JK Rowling did a good job of making sure you cared about characters and that their deaths had meaning when they went – whether to remind readers of the danger that a main character (Ron or Hermione – maybe even Harry), or just to make us cry about someone’s sacrifice (Dobby’s was perfect, Dumbledore’s noble, Snape’s an outstanding, marvelous twist) and get us invested even more about whether the cause would succeed.
I have 2 short story series, and have avoided killing anyone significant in either so far. With Swordsmaster, the original novel had a significant death in it (that I hoped the reader would care about; I’m a pantser, and the original evolved on its own, with little input from me.) Now that I’m making it a series I have a couple more deaths coming that are necessary to the plot; I’m working more consciously at making sure their deaths have extra value before they happen. I hope to make the story better, and also to avoid readers figuratively (or literally) throwing the book against the wall because they got nothing out of the death.
After all, most readers wouldn’t understand it if I told them that the character and I had a difference of opinion, and so I killed them. Even if it is true.
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William Mangieri’s writing has been published on Daily Science Fiction and The Arcanist. His ninety or so short stories and related collections can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
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