Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Homicidal Writers Killing Characters – Film at Eleven

By Aaron Michael Ritchey


So I got the review of a lifetime from a teenage girl who loved The Never Prayer but also had some very keen insights. Like an aging, ulcer-ridden New York editor reading a novel they like.
One thing she pointed out, and while this is a spoiler, well, it won’t spoil too much. People die. In life, and in books.

She agreed to let me quote her, and you’ll get an idea of her awesomeness.
“You, and J.K Rowling, and John Green, sit behind your laptops and kill people. Good, nice people. Because you can. But as a reader, character deaths can be very hard to swallow, and are a very emotional things. I just hope that you don't get carried away, and understand that character killing is not something (as an author) you should take lightly. Because we as readers don't.”

This made me stop and think. First off, that I was in a list with J.K. Rowling and John Green. That made me kind of gush. Jo, John, Aaron. Yeah, baby, I can see it. We’ll be eating roast duck in Manhattan and talking about our paychecks and fan praise.
*snap* *snap* *snap*

Aaron, are you there? Hello! Blog post, here.
Okay, back to what I’m trying to say. I am a slave to the story. If the story needs someone killed, I will kill them. I might not like it, but at times, there is nothing better than a good, solid death.

What does killing a character do?
If you do it early on, it puts blood in the water and where’s there’s blood, there’s the fear of sharks, and fear is such a powerful motivator. I need readers to read my books, and I’ll try to use anything I can to get them to turn the page. Nice people being nice, well, some people love those books, but I have to say, I get bored easily.

So death pushes the reader on, to find out who else will die, or what other carnage there might be. Death, carnage, fear, yeah. These are a few of my favorite things.
Death also lets the reader know I’m serious. I’m not screwin’ around here. This is about life, pain, love, torture, hope, desire, and things can get messy really fast. Joss Whedon knows how powerful death is, and he wields his own headhunting machete with glee. 

In the Firefly movie, Serenity, I truly thought he was going to go all Greek tragedy and slaughter everyone. I really did. I watched, tears streaming down my face, as things looked bleak for our heroes. When that didn’t quite happen, I laughed, I cheered, and Serenity is now one of my favorite movies.
The reason The Wrath of Kahn was so good was the death of Spock. I can’t help but shout out the brilliance of the second Star Trek movie. Our aging heroes finally face their own mortality, the Kobayashi Maru, the no-win scenario.

Which is why Star Trek Into Darkness was so lame. Death was a cute, pink teddy bear in that movie, and I don’t want that. Death needs to loom large.
In Blake Snyder’s book on screenwriting, Save the Cat, he says the dark moment should have a death, or at least the hint of death. It’s the end of our heroes, and we keep watching to see it all play out.

J.K. Rowling, genius storyteller and my close friend, does this well, not only in each Harry Potter book, but in the whole series arc. Spoiler alert, but Dumbledore dies in book six. Yeah, spoiler, but if you haven’t read the Harry Potter books by now, shame on you. So each book has the story arc, the hint of death in the dark moment, and the whole series has a story arc. At the dark moment of the series, there is Dumbledore’s death. We start book seven with trepidation. Would Rowling kill everyone? Well, more people die, I’ll tell you that.
Before I even began writing The Never Prayer, I knew exactly who had to die and when and how. All of Lena’s struggles and character arc pointed to that one moment when she had to act and do something she couldn’t have done at the beginning. She’d grown, she’d changed, she’d learned wisdom and she’d learned selflessness. I couldn’t have written the book without the death I put in it. Someone in my critique group wanted me to kill a bunch of other people, but no, the story didn’t demand any more coffins. Just the one.

In all my books, there’s going to be death, and dying, and sadness and the gnashing of the teeth. However, do you know what’s so great about fiction? And even better, do you know what’s so great about speculative fiction?
Death is not always death. People can come back to life like in a bad 70’s soap opera. 

And that is why Christianity is such a powerful religion, because the story of Jesus is the story of defeating death—the resurrection. 
I like books that rollercoaster me along, that sprinkle truths along the way, and one of the great truths of life is that it will end. For us all.

To hope, to act, to celebrate in the face of death, that is what makes us human. We can face death and we can be better for it.  In fact, we can even transcend death.
But my reviewer does bring up an excellent point. Don’t kill unnecessarily. Make it count. 

After the blood spills, give us life. Give us hope. 
Roll away the stone. Why do you look for the living among the dead?
 
About the Writer: YA Paranormal author Aaron Michael Ritchey has penned a dozen manuscripts in his 20 years as a writer. When he isn’t slapping around his muse, Aaron cycles to look fabulous, works in medical technologies, and keeps his family in silks and furs. His first novel, The Never Prayer, is available now from Crescent Moon Press. Most recently, his work appears in the steampunk anthology The Penny Dread Tales Volume III and in the May 31, 2013 issue of Electric Spec.  His next novel is under contract, due out spring of 2014.