To kill or not to kill, that is the question.

April 30, 2014 | By | Reply More

One of the many issues that an author faces is the perennial problem of killing off the ones you love – not your editor at your publishing company, obviously (that would see you in jail). No, I’m talking about the kind of murder that doesn’t carry a jail sentence – the slaughter of one of your beloved (and hopefully your readers’ equally beloved) totally fictional characters.

It’s a problem that faces every fiction writer, sooner or later. To kill or not to kill, that is the question. JK Rowling faced the problem with the murder of her wise, cheerful old Dumbledore, and Arthur Conan Doyle finally arranged to have Sherlock Holmes tumble to his death fighting the evil Professor Moriarty. Suzanne Collins faces the problem twenty four times a book in the Hunger Games, as the number of young tributes are slowly whittled down.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins . . . 24 murders a book, guaranteed!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins . . . 24 murders a book, guaranteed!

Here’s the quandary. Too few fatalities of central characters in the plot and the novel will lose all its suspense. Your book becomes a little too much like an episode of Scooby Doo, where you know your gang of heroes will unmask the villain and drive off totally unharmed in the Mystery Machine by the end of the show. So a poor old author is more or less forced to kill off one or two heroines/heroes during the course of the plot, just to keep you, the reader, on your toes. You need to be made to feel that anyone can die, just to erase any suspicion of predictability that might be forming in your mind.

But what happens when you go too far in the opposite direction? Dear reader, I give you author George RR Martin’s fantasy epic, Game of Thrones.  Here, everyone dies. Bad guys. Good guys (and by guys, I mean guys and gals – Uncle George doesn’t discriminate). Fall in love with a fascinating character in one book? Tough luck. Two books later in the series they are almost guaranteed to have met their end in a horribly grisly manner. The trouble with the Game of Thrones books – and I should say I love the novels and am a fan – is that the almost certain demise of every main character has become for me, just a little too predictable. A regular 99% death rate in your cast list is almost as predictable as a zero percent  death rate.

So . . . which character to kill, and how many of them?

It’s a problem I’m cowardly avoiding with the book for the Author’s Apprentice. I’m outsourcing the problem to you, the reader. You will get to vote online here on who lives and who dies. Think of the concept as a cross between The Hunger Games arena and a phone-your-votes-in TV show like Britain/America’s Got Talent. Someone’s going to get it. And you’re going to vote exactly who!

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Category: Writer's Dojo

About the Author ()

I have been working as a full-time author publishing fantasy and science fiction novels for HarperCollins for the last seven years.

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