Requiem for a Fictional Person
An author has the power of life and death over her characters.
It’s most convenient when you want to deal out the ultimate payback to a dastardly villain. However, sometimes in a story, it becomes necessary to eliminate a character the author and readers actually like. This might happen for a number of reasons.
1. If the character is too important to the hero or heroine, an author may have to remove them in order for the protagonist to grow. Frodo had to lose Gandalf in order to come into his full stature as the Ring Bearer.
2. Some characters may be wearing “red shirts,” a la StarTrek. In order to emphasize the seriousness of the situation, someone may have to die.
3. A character may offer himself or herself up to a dangerous enterprise, a self-sacrifice for the good of other characters. Sometimes, an author can save them. Sometimes, the character may be called upon to live out the consequences of their altruistic choice. Consider Sydney Carton, Dicken’s sardonic hero of A Tale of Two Cities. For the love of a woman who has chosen someone else, he goes to the guillotine in his rival’s place.
4. A character may sometimes have to die because the author is too cowardly to write a happy ending. Nicholas Sparks, for example, is so afraid of writing a romance, he makes his hero in Message in a Bottle engage in a stupid final gesture that leads to his tragic, senseless death. This kind of character assassination makes me want to hurl the book across the room.
I’m considering this topic today because I may find myself writing an ultimate final scene for one of my characters in my current WIP. Killing off even a fictional person is not something to be done lightly. I have to weigh the needs of the story with my affection for this rascal of a character. He may still need to die, but I don’t know yet whether it will have to come to that.
So how do you feel about losing fictional people? Is there a story where the death of a character you liked haunts you? Do you ever wish an author had bumped off one of their creations?