I can think of one reason why I’m glad I’m not an uber successful author of genre fiction. I’m not a prisoner of my own success. There are no external expectations placed on me and my writing. I can do pretty much whatever I want. One of the things I like to do is kill characters.
Have you ever wondered if iconic fiction characters like Alex Cross or Jack Reacher will ever die? I don’t think they will because fans would demand the heads of James Patterson and Lee Child on a platter if that happened. So, as readers we’re forced to suspend our disbelief while we enjoy the ongoing death defying exploits of Cross, Reacher, and their ilk. At some point there’s a chance these characters could devolve into mere caricatures of super heroes. I don’t want Jack Reacher to turn into Steven Seagal. I say this as a fan and admirer of the writing of Patterson and Child.
Characters have to die. Death is part of the human experience. The trick is picking the right time for them to die. I don’t take this lightly. Once a character is dead, they’re gone for the remainder of the book and any future books in that particular series. So, how do I decide when to kill someone?
1. They’ve become extraneous to the story and perhaps the entire series. A calculated death or murder can inject some tension, mystery, and possibly some misdirection into the narrative without adversely impacting the rest of the book or future books in the series.
2. The character’s words, actions, and behavior put their safety at risk. I’m not saying that the death or murder should be predictable, but it should be explainable based on events and actions leading up to it. Sure, people sometimes drop dead or are killed without any warning, but I don’t like to see that in writing. It’s gratuitous and too similar to deus ex machina solutions that authors sometimes force into their narratives when they’ve written themselves into a corner and can find no way out.
3. I’ve reached a dead end with the character and can think of nothing more to do with them. Perhaps they were never meant to play more than a minor role. Maybe I just couldn’t develop them the way I had originally envisioned. In any event, it’s time for them to go away. They don’t always have to die, but sometimes they do.
I’m just under 30,000 words into Pieces of January. An important death is about 2,000 words away. Let the killing begin.