The majority of us are probably true short story writers, I think. A lot of freedom can be found in the medium of 5,000 words or less. For one thing, you are not tied down by the same burdens and obligations as perhaps most novelists may be. There is less pressure in a sprint than in a marathon. When we dual natured creatures do, however, seek to write for the long haul, we find ourselves adrift in a sea of brand new adversities and complications. One of the ultimate injustices? Killing characters.
We know all the greats have done it, and continue to do it. We’ve read the articles and seen the memes. What sets them apart are their motives. For what reasons can we kill a character and call it necessary? As writers, are tasked with a burden typically reserved for deities — we have to JUSTIFY death. For every life we take, we must be prepared to make formal statement when interrogated. It happens to all of us, whether we’re swapping tales on the internet, or trying to catch the eye of HBO or Universal Studios. Eventually, the audience needs to know WHY.
In the infographic that inspired this post, I read some of the generally accepted motives for killing off a fictional character, and I realized how much I have not exaggerated the pressure of justifying death. In real life, don’t we know that death simply occurs, and that often reason is nowhere to be found? If we can accept this of our real world, why then do we demand so much more from our fictional ones? Is it really only because we turn to fiction for wonder and escape, not the gritty horrors of reality? Is it the entitlement inherent in any audience seeking entertainment? Do we feel, when we are the audience, that we are OWED a certain level of justice, even in a world we did not create?
Have you ever killed off a character? If so, how much pressure (if any) did you feel to make it a ‘necessary’ death? For what reasons have you ended lives in your work?
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