Is No One Safe?

Lord have mercy.  Posting late today.  Had to take the pooches to the vet (they’re fine–Daisy’s just had a stomach thing and Callie was due up for her annual check up), then took the rest of the morning off to hit up the grocery before the deluge from Issac hits us.

I had a totally traumatic beginning to my morning, one that ended with copious tears shed on my part.  I’m sure my hubs would have been quite alarmed if he hadn’t already left for work, as I think there was actual wailing involved.  See, C.J. Redwine totally killed off one of my favorite characters in her book.  In a completely horrible manner.  I’ve been plotting horrific deaths for the perpetrator ever since.

This is the highest possible compliment I could pay an author.  Because I am a tough chick. Usually only the death of an animal will make me cry.  That she made me love this character in the first 120 pages that much says OODLES about her skill at crafting a story.   Usually only Joss Whedon does this to me (I cried buckets when Wash died).  She’s also going on my uber short list of authors who can pull off present tense storytelling without being annoying.

It’s got me thinking about the whole idea of raising stakes by killing characters (good characters, I mean).  This is something I have never done in a book because I HATE when I read it because it really HURTS ME as a reader.  And yet in most of those cases, it was the final catalyst for change, the thing that flipped whatever switch needed flipping.  Think about Agent Colson’s death in The Avengers.  Would the team have really come together without that push?

There are certain types of books (movies too) where you can count on the fact that nobody’s gonna die that’s important to you.  This is common in romance.  Your core cast is safe.  This is a contract with the reader that no matter how bad things get, nobody’s gonna get killed off.  This is predominantly what I read.  It’s also what I have always written.  But there’s this whole other kind of book where anything goes.  No one is safe–sometimes not even the hero or heroine.  Well, okay even this kind of romance the hero and heroine are safe, but NOBODY ELSE.  And those stories are positively GUT WRENCHING.

I can’t say I’ll never do it.  I don’t LIKE it.  And I’m sure if I do decide to use such a device in my work, I’ll cry while I write it.  The only thing I can definitively say is I’ll never kill an animal in a book.  That’s my line.  But anybody else?  Maybe it’s time I pushed my own boundaries as a writer.

What about you?  Do you write stories where anybody can be a target or do you like to keep your core peeps safe?  How about reading?  Do you like that emotional manipulation by the author jamming a knife in your gut (I’m watching you, C.J.) or do you get angry when you expect something else?

8 thoughts on “Is No One Safe?

  1. As a reader: If I’m in the mood for tragic stuff I can totally love it. Crying can feel cleansing. Though sometimes when it sneaks up and ninjas me, it is totally frustrating.

    As a writer: My BFF beta reads for me. As soon as he finished one of my works (not saying which) he chat messaged me a bunch of swear words and eventually admitted that he was crying. I’ll kill what needs killing and I’ll break hearts. And I sob like a pathetic loser while I do it.

  2. I HATE it when main characters I love get killed. I hated it when Colson got killed in The Avengers, even though I understand the reason. I’ve killed off characters before, but not the core people. I did have to kill off some people in The Gnome, but it was horror, so all bets are off in that situation.

    And I will never kill off an animal either. I couldn’t stand it! (I hated it when Willow killed that baby deer for a spell.) Can you imagine the nasty email you might get for doing that? I got an email recently from a reader that didn’t like it that I didn’t say what happened to an animal in one of my books. And the reader was absolutely right…I should have said.

  3. I like the “anyone can be a target” brand of storytelling. It keeps the audience guessing. I know Joss’s reason for killing Wash was that after his death, you were on the edge of your seat for the rest of the movie because you no idea who or if anyone else was next. It certainly had the desired effect on me.

    It also keeps the writer’s mind open to ALL the possibilities. The TV show, Heroes, kept certain characters around way too long. I think that limited the where the show could go because the writers had to find ways to use characters with no stories left to tell.

    Like any plot device, if the death of a character moves the story along, then it should definitely be considered.

  4. My daughter wanted to watch Jaws. I blame Shark Week. And because it’s an old movie with less blood than some episodes of Mythbusters, I let her watch it. She got nervous at the part where Hopper goes down in shark cage and Jaws comes after him. “He’s going to die!”

    “No way, honey. He’s Richard Dreyfuss.”

    I’d never managed to sit through Jaws before. Being a romance-free mansland type movie, it’s not my thing. But I was pretty sure Hooper was gonna make it. Just like I was pretty sure Quint was a goner.

    At which point I explained, in some detail, why I thought Quint was going to buy it, including the fact that he was living on borrowed time, having survived shark infested waters that killed 700 of his shipmates, and here he was, out shark-hunting and tempting fate, and being a pretty unlikable jerk on top of that. Brody was probably going to be okay because he had a wife and kid, had been swell guy this whole time, and faced his fear of the water for the good of the town. “Trust me, Quint’s your Red Shirt.”

    I think we’re probably at a point, as savvy consumers of fiction, where we need more rule bending to keep things from being too predictable. I’ve never thought there was a rule in romance about not killing– except for the hero & shero, and I think THAT’s a damn fine rule and anyone who violates it (City of Angels, Message in a Bottle) should be [insert gruesome punishment I probably don’t REALLY mean]. I didn’t agree with killing Wash; there are others I certainly would have preferred to have sacrificed at that point, but I did understand why SOMEONE bought it at that particular moment of Serenity and I think it worked.

    In a movie, the villain grabs a hostage and puts a knife to her throat while he makes demands of the hero. The hero doesn’t want to give in, so the villain puts the pressure one, literally, to make his point. The camera zooms in as blood trickles down the throat of the hostage and the hero knows the villain means business.

    If you, as a writer, don’t show a willingness to hurt your characters and don’t show the reader some blood once in awhile, some readers aren’t going to be able to feel your characters are in real jeopardy.

  5. To be truthful I hate when one of the core peeps is killed Tara Jantzen did it in one of her book the character J.T. but then a few books later she brought him back he never did die he was a prisoner of an evil drug lord who later escaped. That book ended up being my favorite book of hers. She writes some amazing romantic mysteries.

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless Smartphone

  6. Joss Whedon and Russel T Davies are notorious for killing off loved characters, but what they give us is so good I can;t stay away. I must admit I haven’t read Game of Thrones because I’ve heard he kills of characters- a lot- like every battle makes you hold your breath praying your fav character will still be there.
    When I plotted out my YA series I realized that I would need to kill some one off, and two characters are going to leave, I started to cry just thinking about it! I’m afraid of what will happen when I actually do it.

  7. Well, I haven’t written any MC deaths yet—at least, not ones where they stay dead (yanno, fantasy undead)—but I have some planned. One character will die in the next book for a series I’m working on, and the beta for the book before that one has said he’s probably her favorite character of any I’ve written. I’m nervous about killing him, but he really screws up in a way that means that he can’t not die.

    But I did figure out how I could kill him without having to kill another character with him, so that’s good. I didn’t want to kill her, too. At least…not yet. Unfortunately, the death I have pictured for her isn’t a pleasant one, either, but it’s less dying-because-her-brother-effed-up and more… Well, it’s still tied to the aftermath of that screwup, but not as much as the other death would’ve been.

    Another WiP actually hinges on the detail that the MCs are insane or dead at the end, and the FMC kills the MMC. (It’s a rare character in that story that isn’t some form of…crazy.)

    That said, I have other stories where the MCs are safe, either because the tone’s more lighthearted or because the topics are gut-wrenching enough already and a MC death wouldn’t help.

  8. I had to kill off a much loved character in one novel. Not only did I cry when I wrote it, every single edit on that scene had me a teary-eyed mess. I’d be working away, reach that part of the story, and think, “Oh, no! It’s chapter 28!”

    I can’t do that sort of thing too much… I’d become an emotional basket case if I did. LOL

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