Abusing your characters

on Tuesday, February 14, 2012
A google image search for "killing characters author" has like six pictures of George R. R. Martin. Makes sense. 

I'm pretty sure I posted on killing characters a while back, but I can't for the life of me find it, and most of my old posts were garbage anyway so it's probably for the best.

Anyway, at LTUE a member of my writing group pointed out that all my stories are depressing. Which isn't fair, it's just all the stories recently have been depressing. That's different.

Pat Rothfuss is frequently quoted for saying that "There are much worse things you can do to your characters aside from killing them." This is very true. We often see death as the "end all" for ruining a character's life, but in truth tormenting them can have a far greater impact. Like killing their family. Or ruining a hope or dream. Or setting stuff up to look like everything will end nicely and then having the worst possible thing happen.

I do this a lot. It's called drama, anonymous writing group buddy. Look into it (I'm kidding, obviously).

Anyway, George R. R. Martin is a great example of this, because often when people are killed they are probably better off for it, because crap just keeps getting worse for everybody else. Yeah, there are a few characters I think should have lived and who died unfairly (the injustice was more offensive than the actual death), but as a whole it's the ones that live that have the worst problems. It keeps the tension constant and staggering, which is also why I've started to burn out at A Feast for Crows (great title, sloooow book).

Also the tension of nobody being safe really keeps the reader on his or her toes. In a Brandon Sanderson novel I know that most of my main viewpoints will probably make it to the end, and the ones that don't will at least die with dignity. Martin doesn't do this. Many, many characters die dishonored, shamed, and unjustly. As Rothfuss said, there are worse things than killing them. Killing them without honor could be one of these.

So that was just my thought as I was writing The Ashen Destroyer. Now go make your characters' lives hell!


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