Killing Main Characters

I don’t know about any of you, but I used to despise authors who killed off main characters. How could they, right? Especially if those characters are part of a series and the readers get so emotionally attached to them. It seems despicable!

I remember when a friend of mine went BERZERK after reading a certain modern series where the main character dies at the end. She was so utterly disgusted with the author, I thought to myself, “I’ll never kill off one of my main characters.”

But now, as a writer, I see the benefit and difficulties of a potential main character’s death. And, as a medical professional, I also realize how ridiculous it is for an author to work so hard to keep a MC alive. I can’t help but roll my eyes in disgust when I read about horrendous wounds and injuries and atrocities that happen to a MC and, miraculously!, they survive! I mean, how do authors get crap like that past an editor and publisher?

Coming from working in a hospital in downtown Detroit, let me tell you, that is not what happens. When people are wounded or blown up by a bomb, they either don’t make it, or they’re scarred or disabled for the rest of their lives. Unless you write fantasy or magical realism where there literally is a magical cure for an injury… THERE IS NO MAGICAL CURE!

So, yeah, now I’m plotting and planning the deaths of a MC or two in a few of my books, and it is not easy. It requires so much work to justify their deaths to the readers. I believe some authors are afraid to cause an uproar in their fan base and lose money, but if it fits the story, then kill them off!

Let’s be real, if J.K. Rowling had killed off Harry, there certainly would have been riots in the streets. But she still had the authorial right to kill him if she wanted. Life happens. And in books, life should still happen.

Am I right? What do you think? Keep or kill MCs? Why?

A

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What’s the Craziest Thing You’ve had a Character do?

I’m sure some of y’all are going to give me that crap about only doing things that move the story forward blah blah blah. I don’t care. This is a very simple question. If you haven’t had your character do anything crazy, then it is very easy to not comment.

With that being said, I really don’t think I’ve ever had any of my characters do anything too out of the ordinary. There was a pretty crazy shootout at his house during the middle of the night and another main character killed a couple guys who likely would have done the same to her if she hadn’t killed them first. But that stuff happens in crime novels all the time. Which is why I don’t really think either of those is particularly crazy.

And I don’t think I’d make Andrew or Sydney do anything crazy just for the sake of doing so. Who knows. I don’t.

So what’s the craziest thing you’ve had a character do?

PS: I decided to write about this topic not because of something I’m writing, but because of some personal experience. I was watching my skydiving videos when I thought of it. And decided I’d share those videos with y’all just in case you’ve never been fortunate enough to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. The first video is from July 15, 2011.

The second is from August 15, 2011.

And oh by the way, I don’t actually think skydiving is crazy. Only people who’ve never done it think that.

Why are Protagonists Always Damaged in Some Way?

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Photo Credit: American Salon

Just a picture of my favorite protagonist in the history of all history to start this post.

I wanted to write this post from the perspective of a writer, but I soon realized that my perspective as a reader would force its way into the writing of this post, so you’ll get both. Let me tell you what I’m talking about when I say “damaged.” There is always something that the protagonist of a story has to deal with that makes a case more difficult to work or makes whatever goal s/he is trying to achieve that much more unattainable. But why is this? Why can’t characters be regular people who have to deal with something extraordinary during the course of the book?

In a very non-scientific analysis, I decided that I’d think of some of the series I read to see how many of the protagonists are broken in some way or another. I won’t name any of them, but let me tell what I came up with.

One guy’s mother is murdered when he’s a child and he becomes a detective. Decades later, the mother of his daughter is murdered during the course of an investigation.

Another guy is shot while on the job as a patrolman and the bullet is left inside of him due to its proximity to his heart. This is referred to in every book.

Another guy’s wife is murdered due to his work as a detective. Killer never apprehended.

Another guy’s wife is in broadcasting and after divorcing him, she starts to do whatever it takes to move up in her line of work. All while claiming she will always love him. He secures a Chief of Police job on the other side of the country after going to the interview drunk. The city figures they’ll be able to control an idiot.

Do you see my point? Sorry these are all detectives, but there are more examples I could point out from my own reading, but I have a post to write.

I’ve even been told that my character, Andrew Banks, is too squeaky clean and that he needs some damaged history, otherwise the reader is less likely to become invested in him. Huh? I mean, when I set out to write him (he’s me, which y’all should know) I did so wanting him to be different. Real. Not the guy with all the answers and being some expert at this or that. Just a regular guy who does his best at his job. And what did some of my readers say?

He’s independently wealthy.

He’s arrogant.

He’s a bad detective.

His relationship with Sydney is a joke.

He thinks he’s better as one person than an entire police department.

First off, none of these are correct. The only one that I think even warrants any kind of response is the first on the list. Some readers have come to their conclusion that he’s some rich guy parading around the city of Houston because of a very short list of things. He doesn’t charge his first client anything for working her case. He happens to wear a Polo once during the course of the book. And he doesn’t tell the reader constantly about not having any money.

I’m not going to explain away the notion that he’s independently wealthy because those are the things right there that readers have told me that make him appear so. If you think someone is wealthy because of that list, then your definition of wealth is not the same as any other. And you probably need to check your head for irregularities.

Back to my point, what makes a character more likeable just because s/he has a bad past? Because to me, a great character is a great character. Period. I won’t change my character to fit some literary expectation or whatever you want to call it, because he is who he is, and that’s all there is to it.

Letter From Character to Author

Photo Credit: Impowerable

Okay. My Mondays are typically reserved for posts that I think are most relevant to my readers/followers. They’ve usually been questions about reading or writing that don’t always have the most simple answer. But I’ve happened to read a few posts in which characters write letters to their authors or vice-versa. And I think it’s awesome. So here we are. I’ll have a letter written from me to my character next week. Now let’s see what he has to tell me!

Dear JohnRaymond,

I can call you that, right? Since we’re the same person. I think that makes us family. Boy, do I have some bones to pick with you. Where do I even begin? I’ll start with something I’ve already said. I know you WANT us to be the same. But we aren’t. I’m taller. Bigger. And quite a bit more funny than you are. And let’s not forget that we aren’t even the same Race. I know you want to be a hotshot PI like me, but stick to your life and I’ll stick to mine. Okay? Good.

Wow. I didn’t mean for this to come across as my being so bitter toward you. I’m not. I mean, you created me. You gave me the greatest girl who ever lived and I love her dearly. And you gave me a gun and made sure I knew how to use it. You gave me a strong moral compass that I know can only come from you. You gave me a business of my own that has been successful during its short run so far. And you gave me the ability to help people. It doesn’t get much better than that.

BUT, there’s more. I have some questions that I hope you’ll answer in any returning correspondence because I’d love to hear your answers. First, why is it that you send clients into my office who need the help and assistance of law enforcement? I mean, I’d like to think I’m decent at what I do, but I am just one person. I was lucky to get out of the Vega case alive, and that was my first. You gave me a break with some of the next cases that you didn’t think were good enough to write about and then threw the Giles case at me. Really? A prominent activist known across the country couldn’t afford someone more experienced than me? I realize I’m writing this while still working on that case, but I have no idea how I’ll be able to figure it all out on my own. Lastly, stop me from making Sydney upset all the time. Every other chapter I’ve done the wrong thing or said something stupid. Come on.

JohnRaymond, I know I’ve been critical of you, but the last thing I want to mention in this letter is something of great importance. I want to thank you for the support system you’ve provided me. I’ll always have Fox to turn to for help on my cases, no matter how serious they may be. And Sydney. It’s great that she’s beautiful and smart and independent and won’t put up with any nonsense from me. But that’s not it. There’s nothing she can’t handle. I can talk to her about a case or a decision I’m struggling with and she’ll always know what needs to be said or done. Always. I honestly believe that she’s better at what I do than I am.

Are there some things that I wish you’d do a little differently? Yes. But I have Sydney and Fox and that tells me that I’ll be able to navigate my way through anything that walks in my door. Thank you.

Yours,

Andrew Banks