10.6.13

Your Characters Need to Die (or What I Learned From Watching Game of Thrones)


I still have to watch the S3 finale of Game of Thrones but as of this morning...I have finally experienced the Red Wedding, and even though (thanks to Twitter) I knew people were going to die and it was going to be horrible and...if you watch Game of Thrones then you know just how bloody and gory it can get...I just wasn't expecting for the wedding to end like that.

I hate spoilers so I'm not going to talk about what happened for those of you who might be behind. I'll just say that even as I type this blog post, I'm still a little upset and sad and a whole bunch of other emotions that I can't put a name to at the moment.

I'm not upset about all of the gore. I'm not crying because a lot of people died. I knew what I signed up for the moment I started watching the show. Death and gore isn't anything new, but when characters you grow to like are the ones that die...that hurts. And even though it hurts - the pain that comes when you lose a favorite character (or two or three...however many it is) can be useful.

Don't be fooled by the title of this post. I'm not saying that y'all should go kill your characters right now and be done with their story. No, I only mean for you to think about their death. If your main character or any of the other major characters were to die in the current scene you are writing, would anyone care? Would you care? Sure we like all of our characters, but take a step back from your story.

Try to look at your character's death from a reader's perspective. If you can honestly say that you would feel horrible if one of your major characters suddenly died, then you know you've done a great job as a writer developing that character, making them likeable enough to care about. If you can't seem to detach yourself from the story, ask a friend or a critique partner the same questions. Again, you don't really have to kill any of your characters. Just think about the kind of emotions their death will evoke.

The best thing about reading a book, in my opinion, is the ability that words have to make you feel. If a book doesn't make me feel anything then chances are it won't be memorable to me, and the characters will just be words on paper, nothing more. Sure that's okay for minor characters that don't advance the plot in any way, but if I come away from your book feeling that way about important characters then their death won't mean a thing to me. It's like when there is a fight scene on GoT and random people die. Sure it sucks for anyone to die but these characters...they're just extras in a scene, unimportant people. Your major characters aren't unimportant so don't write them as though they are. Write them and keep in mind that their death should mean something.

You can even take your main character and change the ending so that your story ends with them dying. If you ask someone (other than a person who has already read your ms) to read the new version with the death scene at the end, and ask them how they felt about it - you know your character left a mark on them if they cry or yell at you. I'm done crying but I really REALLY want to yell at George R. R. Martin right now. Seriously, though. If he (for whatever reason) wants to plan your wedding you tell him NO and move on with your life while you're still in one piece. That man doesn't need to write another wedding scene again if all of them are going to be as horrifying as...*shudders* (as you can see I'm a little traumatized). Anyways, my reactions to this episode and the death of his characters is proof that I cared about them; that their death hurt enough for me to mourn them like they were living people.

People don't cry of random character's deaths so don't let your character(s) be random and unimportant.

Make them worth someone shedding tears over.

To those who have killed any of their favorite characters: How did it make you feel? Did your CPs or anyone who has read your ms feel the same way? Did the death of that character fit them?

Thanks for reading!

4 comments:

  1. This is such a great post and great takeaway from that particular GoT episode. Like you, I was horrified, but then I read an interview with George R. R. Martin and I get why he did it (as much as I don't like it). I think you raise a good point about making sure people actually care about our characters. A lot to think about here. :)

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  2. This is so well-said. As much as I HATED what happened to some of my favorite characters last week, I get why it had to happen. If we're not sad or disappointed or in some way emotional when a character dies (or fails, or whatever), then why bother following along with the story?

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  3. 1. I'm still horribly behind on GOT, the book series & the TV series. Thankfully I'm only about five episodes behind on the TV series but it's killing me (aka George R.R. Martin is a genius)!!

    2. I think you touched on something really important. I honestly never thought about my characters important just how you phrased it. I have a scene where a main character dies and you just gave me the solution on how to make it more meaningful so thanks!

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  4. Some people hate that GRRM kills off characters, because they feel that it decreases their emotional attachment -- why care about characters when they could die any second? Why bother getting invested?

    I have the exact opposite reaction. :) In the books (spoiler), every single prologue and epilogue character is an expendable who dies. That doesn't stop me from caring about their perspective and hoping that maybe, just maybe, one of them will live...As for the rest of the characters, it's just like you said. If I don't believe they are really and truly at risk, I don't care as much. I get complacent. If I go see a Superman movie, I know Superman wins and saves the world. I have no reason to see the movie then except for the special effects. What GRRM does by killing leads off is make us reevaluate our expectations for how stories "should" go and what "should" happen to heroes.

    OK, sorry, that was long! I tend to wax eloquent on the subject of Game of Thrones. :)

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