Friday, 25 July 2014

Savage writers and gentle readers

You know how you’re reading along, enjoying a book, and all of a sudden the writer kills off your favourite character. Or something really terrible happens, and horrendous suffering ensues. Or maybe a really cute puppy gets kicked – but something the author does makes you think they must have absolutely no soul.

And when you look at the number of books out there where something gruesome and/or tragic occurs, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s a whole lotta soulless writers running around out there.

I’ve come to the conclusion (admittedly only based on a sample of one, so the data could be off) that we writers do come equipped with both hearts and souls. But writers keep their writer-selves in a separate box to their reader-selves. The kick a writer gets out of writing something horrific is very different to how they might feel confronted with reading that in someone else’s book. When you're writing you're thinking about plot and cool twists, how to make your characters suffer (because stories about happy contented people are boring), and all the technicalities of doing that in the most effective way. You're not experiencing the story and all its emotional highs and lows the way a reader coming to it fresh does.

Case in point: I’ve started revising The Twiceborn Queen, the sequel to Twiceborn. When I wrote the first draft I killed off a major character from the first book. There were good story-related reasons to do so, but honestly? I was just bored with him. I could have worked to make him more interesting, but killing him off was fun.

As a reader I hate it when sad things happen in books. I know if I bought this book expecting a fun fantasy read, only to have a favourite character from the first book die on me, I’d be disappointed and angry. It might turn me off the series.

So now I’m torn. Do I let writer-me win and keep the death? Kill, maim, destroy! Or do I bow to my gentler reader-self, and revise him back into health and happiness? No wonder people think writers are crazy: not only do we spend half our time playing with imaginary people in our heads, but we argue with ourselves too.

What about you? Does it put you off a series when a favourite character dies?


  1. It's all about what's necessary for the story, what serves the theme.
    And even though we don't always like it when a favorite character dies, that death often seals the significance and emotional depth of the character's experience; paradoxically, people wouldn't have had the same attachment to the character if s/he survived.
    We just have to be careful not to use death as the only way to arouse emotion or raise the stakes.

    1. Good points, Jenn. I have some big decisions to make!