How to kill a character, part ii

Okay, so the poll was sort of fun! I’ll have to do another poll now and then, now that I know how to embed them.

Results for “Thematically, who should die?” — 22 votes for DO NOT KILL ANYONE, and Kim, you made me laugh with your comment!

If someone DOES die, four votes acknowledge that it might be thematically appropriate for that to be Grayson. Then there are single votes for Natividad, Alejandro, Thaddeus, Carissa, and Justin.

My main reaction to this is: Honestly, people! Hasn’t Carissa suffered enough? Various other votes here surprise me, but the ones for Grayson don’t. I was expecting some readers to point to him. Personally, if I were a reader, I would have voted for DO NOT KILL ANYONE.

We’ve got significant disagreement here, because under “Who should definitely NOT die?” — 17 votes for DO NOT KILL ANYONE, but nine votes for Natividad. Whoever picked her as a thematically acceptable death, you are in a minority. Two votes for Grayson, so we definitely have readers pulling for him to make it. Interestingly, Keziah and Justin both got votes. I know Keziah is a favorite with some readers. I like her too. (I like all these characters.) (Perhaps that isn’t a surprise.)

I’m going to pull out part of Kim’s comment here, because I think this is a good observation:

[D]eath isn’t actually the scariest thing that can happen to someone. Your stakes aren’t crazy high because everyone might die—it’s because of all the other horrible things that might happen to them, and to the rest of humanity, if they fail.

This is true! This is interesting because it’s a different way to make the death of a character more acceptable. I mean, suppose that the plot goes in such a direction that the choices are (a) death, or (b) something much worse than death. Imagining this dichotomy made me realize that this would be a way to get readers to accept the death of an important character. Oh no, the character is dead! But at least it’s not worse!

I’m not at all saying I’m planning to do that, I’m just pointing out that this is a different way to kill an important character without getting your book thrown across the room by furious readers.

Also, those of you who commented about TASMAKAT. I just could not WAIT for readers to hit that part and if you didn’t quite see how it was going to work out and then loved it, that is perfect and I’m really happy. This book is sitting at 4.8 stars with more than a hundred ratings, so it should be fairly stable at that rating. I wouldn’t be astounded if it eventually dropped to 4.7, I’d be pleased but surprised if it went up to 4.9, but plainly it’s going to stay in that range. Whatever quibbles people have with it, plainly most readers gave it a thumbs up, and that’s great. I will just note that I agree, intensity is quite possible without killing anybody.

Kristi, thanks for the heads up about character deaths in some of Elizabeth Bear’s other books. That kind of character death doesn’t sound like it would work for me.

Kriti, all through The Hunger Games, at various crucial moments, Katniss makes a very short, pithy public statement that captures something important and changes the direction of the story — she pulls people toward a better path than whatever they had in mind. This happens several times. Where does it NOT happen? Right at the end, when Katniss is standing by a microphone and shoots that woman, Coin, but she does not make a speech of any kind. This, in my opinion, was a MASSIVE missed opportunity. MASSIVE. I don’t remember if I stared in amazement at the page or not, but I definitely remember thinking, How could Collins POSSIBLY have failed to have Katniss step up to the microphone at that moment?

Also, though I have done pretty terrible things to some of my characters, I wouldn’t have handled Peeta the way Collins handled him. If you’ve read the World Companion, you know I often react to awful things in someone else’s book by thinking of what I’d have done instead, something less awful, something that perhaps redeems whatever terrible things have been going on. All through that part, I was thinking of what I would have done instead, intensely enough that it interfered with reading the book. The reason the Scholomance trilogy worked for me MUCH better than The Hunger Games is because there’s a much stronger redemptive arc that pulls almost everyone, and almost every terrible thing, into a better position at the end.

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5 thoughts on “How to kill a character, part ii”

  1. Wait, noooo, I wasn’t giving you more reasons to kill characters!

    Though i have to say that is actually the only reason I can reconcile myself to a major character dying: if they save another character, or the world, or whatever.

    But no. Pleeeeze no! (Not Grayson: you guys! Come on!) (I just reread “Errand of Mercy” while I was on a bus, and had to surreptitiously swipe the tears from my eyes at the end between Grayson and Ezekiel. Makes me cry every time, the relationship between those two. Grayson is holding on so hard, doing his utmost, and he’s lost so much: don’t you all think he deserves a happy ending??!)

  2. Yes! I was torn on “who should NOT die” between picking Grayson and saying no one should die…finally went with don’t kill anyone, but nooo, definitely not Grayson.

  3. Personally, I love all the scenes between Grayson and Ezekiel, especially that one.

    Kim, good chance that if anyone dies, you’ll be the first, or maybe the second, to know …

  4. Thanks, Rachel, that makes sense about the ending of The Hunger Games. I thought the series was overall pretty nihilistic (and that opinion solidified when I read the prequel, The Ballads of Songbirds and Snakes which is even more depressing). I wasn’t expecting the world or the people in it to get much better. Mostly what I took away from it is that war and revolution and politics are awful, and I’m glad Katniss was able to stop being at the center of things.

    I voted not to kill anyone for both polls. Please don’t kill anyone (or give them fates worse than death)!

  5. I think I missed the poll, but my “definitely should NOT die” character is Thaddeus. Grayson? Sure, that could work. Natividad? A harder sell, but maybe Rachel can do it. Thaddeus? Absolutely not, he has a family and I will riot.

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