Recently, I’ve been thinking about character immortality. Not just in regards to my reading, but my writing too. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever killed off a “good guy” main character that readers have gotten to know, and hopefully like, in any of my books—so why and how did I get here in my meanderings?
Here’s the trail that got me started on character mortality thinking…. G.B. Pool and Jackie Houchin recently delved into the importance, scope, and all around “goodness” of reading. Then—once again—a book club happening moved my thoughts further on. That’s what reading will do for you, make you think! And thirdly, while mentally contemplating a chapter I’m currently working on, my writing-brain wished a character wasn’t there. Should I kill him off? Flashed across my thoughts. No. Was my answer. But, why not?
Starting with the reading part—if I know from the beginning a lead and/or beloved character is going to be killed off—I seldom will read the book. “But you’re always killing off people,” my hubby (a non mystery-genre reader) would probably point out. To explain the difference between a “plot-revolving-around” murder victim, and a key “on-stage” character is hard to explain to him—but for me, there definitely is a big difference.
On to Book Club. Members pick the books that go on our list, mainly I think, because it’s a book by an author they like, or it’s a book they’ve already read and think everyone else will like. The Hamish MacBeth series written by M. C. Beaton (Marion Chesney) is one of my favorites—and having read many of Hamish’s adventures—I put one on our list. In the book I recommended, a character I really liked died, and it soured me on the whole book. Why, I asked myself?
I’m a bleeding-heart-nitwit was my answer. not an “answer” befitting my mystery writer/reader ego. But in fact, I’ve never read/or watched a Morse or Poirot outing where either protagonist got seriously ill, much less die. Avoided on purpose. Indeed, I guess I want me literary heroes to be immortal. Aging is okay, but you can’t go too far.
But time does pass in our stories. As it does in life, and one can only squeeze so much activity in a storytelling year! You have to adopt either a false conceit about time, or ?? Then when it comes to animals, even worse—sigh. I was told by a relative—that even as a child (this was way back when in the dark ages!) when leaving the movie theater after watching “Bambi” I proclaimed I’d never watch another movie like that again in my whole life.
This winding and contradictory mortality thinking road is snaking back and forth for me… For example, in my Rhodes series, it all starts with LC Rhodes setting everything in motion for Leiv’s adventures on his deathbed. And throughout the few books I’ve subsequently written in the series, Leiv often talks to his deceased grandfather, LC.
Clearly, my ramblings here have not brought me a clear understanding—or even a “why”—when it comes to immortality for some, and not for others? Indeed, in my writing reality conundrum mentioned earlier, I’m not killing off one of Leiv’s compadres, but decided to make him fit in. This time. But why? I’m currently leaning toward considerations such as, “what kind of character are they?” Main, supporting, likable, gender, looks, age… I haven’t sorted it out yet.
And why am I continuing down this character immortality road—despite the lack of a clear answer? I didn’t like not liking one of my favorite author’s books! Indeed, Marion Chesney was(still is) very much a guiding-light “STAR” for me. Consequently, I would very much prefer that–not enjoying this particular offering–has to do with wrong-headed thinking on my part!
All thoughts on character mortality are definitely welcome…because as I’ve so often jabbered on about before —I think characters and scenery are the essence of good storytelling. And a key character’s mortality, is probably pretty important to good character development.
Happy Writing Trails!