Killing Fictional Characters

Killing fictional characters is good fun for the novelist.  But it can be difficult for the reader to take so it must not be undertaken likely.  Dickens was chastised by his readers for the death of Little Nell and fans of Sherlock Holmes were so incensed when the hero fell to his death at the Reichenbach Falls that the Author, Conan Doyle, was compelled to bring him back.

I myself have been approached by readers who were upset by the demise of a favourite character I had created.  But I am afraid it was too late.  The stories in question were completed and the books published.  Even if I could go back and alter it, the death was such an integral part of the plot, the purpose of the story would have irrevocably been changed.

It would be like inventing a Time Machine and going back in history and killing an evil historical figure like Hitler.  I remember hearing a comedian saying that killing babies is what a time machine should be used for.  The bible states that King Herod, on hearing a prophecy about the birth of Jesus, ordered the massacre of the innocents, but that did not work.  Altering the course of history, whether factual or fictional, does not seem to be a good idea.

The odd death around a central character in fiction gives them a sense of vulnerability and helps the reader care about them.  It is a reader’s empathy and concern for the protagonist is what keeps him or her reading.  In the prologue of my novel, Magic Bullets, I introduce a killer with an automatic rifle in the hope that in the minds of my readers he hovers in the background like an Angel of Death.  It is a device that has probably been used before and I hope it works.

Magic Bullets “angel of death”
Copyright: tiero / 123RF Stock Photo

My novel Magic Bullets can be found at http://peatmore.com/magicbullets.htm

Keith Jahans

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One Response to Killing Fictional Characters

  1. bestmermaid says:

    It’s a bittersweet moment when readers get attached to characters. It means you’ve done a great job creating them but also some times they (the reader) don’t know when to let go. I guess I understand where they’re coming from, books is a realm to escape into, one that’s supposed to lockout the madness of everyday life. Somewhere along the way, people automatically assumed everything would work out perfectly in the end and all of the main characters will end up safe and sound. But that’s not realistic. Plus it’s too easy to go that route. People you love die in real life. It’s only natural for the same to happen in writing. No regrets! I’m sure your character had a reason for being killed off. There’s always going to be readers who will be upset but as long as there’s a purpose to the loss, you’re doing your job as a writer. ^_^

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