Character Death

Every time I write a book these days, I’m tempted to kill off a major character. Why? Because it’s an unwritten rule you don’t, so of course I want to break that rule. I’m rebellious that way.

You can’t see it coming though. It has to be a surprise. That way, it shocks. It disturbs. It dismays. It may even anger. But it’ll stick with you a lot longer than any HEA will.

I don’t read a lot in the genre. One, I don’t have much spare time. Two, so many books sound exactly the same as they are written to formula. Three, I consider few of them well written. This is where being an editor hurts, ’cause I see everything that was missed by author and publisher, but I’m not only talking about grammatical crap. I’m also referring to character and story development. 

I don’t remember the plot or characters of the last m/m book I read. I do, however, remember Soulless, Something Different, Gay for Pay, and Protection by T Baggins. The writing is excellent. The characters are well written. And in two of the books, she breaks rules. I’m going to remember Protection for a long time. The author was not afraid to take chances, break the rules.

In the hands of a lesser writer, her stories may not have impressed me as much, but she has the skill to pull it off, all of it, even the main character in Soulless. I will read anything this writer publishes, knowing I’m going to be taken on a wonderful, often unexpected ride.

And that brings me to Game of Thrones. I don’t have HBO. I’ve been watching it on DVDs from Netflix. Tomorrow, I get the last episode of season three. The fourth season begins on HBO in a couple weeks.

Somehow, I missed all the hoopla around the episode titled “The Rains of Castamere,” otherwise known as the Red Wedding. SPOILER ALERT! Read no farther if you haven’t yet seen this and plan to.

I came to it fresh, and it packed one hell of a wallop. I sat up, I stared, I said, “What…?” I cringed. I couldn’t look away. I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

They did something totally unexpected and blew me away. They made me feel, something that is all too rare in entertainment these days.

It took some big balls for the writer and production people to present this to the viewer. In one fell swoop, they unflinchingly killed off three main characters. Blood flowed like a river. It also spurted and shot and leaped. 😉

It was one of the greatest viewing pleasures in my life! YES! Do something different. Take chances. People die, and sometimes they’re the main characters. I loved it, but not until it was over. During the scene, I was freaking out. I mean, it starts with someone repeatedly shoving a knife into the belly of a pregnant woman. That was one hell of a shock, and the intensity doesn’t end there.

So yeah, during, I was glued to the TV, nerves jangling. It was only after I shut off the blu-ray player and chatted with a friend who is also watching the series that I was able to acknowledge and appreciate the bravery in filming something like that.

Kudos to everyone involved. That was superlative storytelling, not because characters died but because they weren’t afraid to break the rules. People die all the time in GofT. They get tortured. They suffer. But when you kill three MAIN characters? Oh yeah. Terrific. 🙂

I want to be that brave in my writing. I want to take chances. I want to shock and surprise. I don’t want to write another book the reader finishes and instantly forgets.


About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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38 Responses to Character Death

  1. AJ Rose says:

    *fistbump* Me too, man. Me too.

    Unfortunately, one of my current characters isn’t cooperating. But we shall see.

  2. ameliabishop says:

    Do it! Be brave! Stop writing Romance and write the stories in your heart. – with scary surprises and no HEAs. I have total faith in you. ❤

    • Transgression was a step in the right direction. Zach doesn’t behave like the perfect MC. He has a relationship with Kris, but he fucks a stray on the beach. His original iteration was much more earthy, but a couple betas didn’t approve and I toned him down. For this story, that worked. For another, I may have ignored their advice.

  3. If it fits the story, go for it. You mentioned Protection for the rule breaking, but Andrea Speed killed off one of her MCs, and the series thrived because of it. I think authors are too often concerned with formula. You know how much I read. I hate reading a book and knowing the journey and ending after the first chapter.

  4. Karen H. says:

    I totally agree with Theo after the heat of the moment had passed I would be pretty awestruck and impressed that any author had the courage to follow where their creative muse leads them. I have read books where a main character should have died and I’m left thinking ‘WTF? No one would survive that?’ personally it leaves me feeling a bit ripped off. It’s not that I want to see every main character killed off, not even close. But if that’s where the story is going then authors need to feel that their readers can be mature enough to deal with it and appreciate that it’s no easier for an author to kill off a character that they created and gave life too than it is for the reader to read about it. So yes, BE BRAVE and follow where your muse leads you.

    • This reminds me of Spock’s “death” in the second Trek movie, Wrath of Khan. Overall, it’s a terrific romp, and many viewers wept over the Vulcan’s passing. BUT they committed the cardinal sin of bringing him back in the third film, which pissed me off to no end. First, it cheapened my response to his death, making a mockery of it. Second, his amazing reappearance was stupid, and that mocked my intelligence.

      They should have had the guts to leave him dead.

  5. valjo44 says:

    As a reader I want a HEA ending…..just because I do 🙂 but I admit that Queers (almost) had me not finishing cuz I was sure AJ was set to kill G off but I had to know! I’m really glad it went the way it did, but excellent buildup.
    As a viewer I think you can only kill off so many characters before it’s not worth it to watch, like the WD, I’m down to one favorite character, and when he goes I won’t bother to watch anymore. G of T doesn’t bother me as much, probably because there’s such a huge talented cast with such complex characters. There will always be someone to watch.

    (I’m still pissed at how Titanic ended.)

  6. Lindsaysf says:

    Hmm. I can’t help thinking of Heroes. They were “breaking the rules” in shifting “good” characters to “bad”, but to me it was simply a betrayal of their audience. As an audience, we came to care about certain characters. Then the writers messed with them in a way that seemed like an exercise, not holding to the integrity of the character. I stopped caring.
    Game of Thrones? Well, I’ve read the first 3. Some people I know stopped reading them because Martin killed off all the people they had come to care about. “Suresh is the prettiest? Let’s turn him into a version of The Fly!”

    • What they did to Suresh was awful. Really hated that storyline. The original intent behind Heroes was to have new characters every season, but they chickened out and let some of them live way past their expiration date. I was really tired of Claire by the end, and Hiro never became Future Hiro, which would have been awesome. Instead, he kept talking and acting like a five-year old, which became tiresome.

      I’m curious to see what they do with the new series. And please! Don’t bring back former characters. Start fresh.

  7. Allison says:

    As much as I enjoy HEAs I want to read the story that is meant to be told. I had a distinct problem with Gravity because I didn’t feel the ending was true to the rest of the movie even though it seemed to make most people happy. I actively campaign for characters to die in The Walking Dead, although I kind of hate the show so I’m probably not the target audience there. But I have to admit, I have purposely distanced myself from the characters in GoT because I know how many of them get killed. The result is that I am not nearly as interested in the story as I was originally.

    In general though I am considerably more invested in a character I read than a character I watch so having the character die is far more difficult and painful for me. The first time I remember being absolutely gutted by a character was in Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. If you haven’t read it I highly suggest it although I haven’t read it in many years and it’s possible my adult perspective would be different than my view as a teen. Nevertheless it is many years later and I still remember that book and the feelings it engendered in me. Any time the “list the authors that matter to you” memes go around on FB he is listed because he was the first author to make me realize that sometimes the story that needs to be told is the one that hurts the most.

  8. Patricia says:

    Thanks for the tip about T. Baggins. I wrote the name down for future buying. I was knocked out by all Elliott Mackle’s fine work and the re-issued “Wingmen,” by Ensan Case. Don’t like formulas either.

  9. Carole says:

    I love the author writing what is in their heart & not feel compelled to write what the readers/fans want to see happen. I guess speaking more for a series. As a reader though I get so emotionally invested in some characters that to not see them get that HEA is tough. I do love it when I’m in the middle of a read & something totally devastating happens & I look up from the book & feel like my heart has stopped & I can’t breath. Totally love that!
    I haven’t started GOT yet although someone gave me it for a b day present. It was like that with The Tudors though. Loved that & you couldn’t get use to someone for very long because the King would decide he was done & off went their head.
    Damn it’s late & I have to be up in 5 hrs. Goodnight. 😘
    Oh, I did read the ones you mentioned (great reads) but not Souless. Thx for rec.

  10. diannegray says:

    Just do it, Theo – rules are made to be broken (and I hate writing rules) 🙂

  11. Sorry, this isn’t actually a comment on this post, though it was quite interesting. I wanted tell you there problems with some of your book links -? The ones that are supposed to go to Voodoolilypress are linking to, some domain that is for sale. I even tried typing directly into my search engine & it still redirects to this other domain. Even if I go in and manually correct ww1 to www in the url, the instant I hit enter it changes back to ww1. I thought you’d want to know, if you don’t already –

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