I’m reading a book, and a character died. I won’t get into the details, so I won’t ruin things for folks who might read the book, and really it’s not important. I thought the death of a particular character served no literary purpose. I get it, sometimes people die, in real life and in fiction. I have no problem understanding that. But in this case, I think the author had no business killing off a particular character, in that it didn’t make the story more interesting. It didn’t make me believe more in the characters. Anyway, it got me off on a long line of thought about authors killing off characters. Which I’m going to break down into blog chunks, if you will. You see, I’ve prepared an outline in my journal. But I don’t have the stamina to write it all out at once.
So let’s start at the beginning. I asked myself (and now I’m asking you, the half dozen or so of you who read this) “Who was the first book character I remember losing?” and “Who was the first author who really got me when they killed off a character?” I think Charlotte was the first character to die in a book I was reading. She was a spider, I don’t remember being particularly broken up about it. I mean, sure it was sad, but she was a spider. Spiders die all the time. Even talking spiders, I assume. A lot of the other classic kids books with death scenes, I don’t think I ever read. Or I didn’t read them until much later. Old Yeller, never read it. Little Women, not until I was in college if you’d believe it (that great scene in “Friends” where Rachel’s reading “The Shining” on Joey’s recommendation and he’s reading “Little Women,” and they get mad at each other and try and ruin the endings? Good times.) I only read Bridge to Terebithia a few months ago, and by then I knew how it ended. Just like I know the key points of “The Sixth Sense” without ever having read it.
The first one that really made me sad? I think that would have been several years after Charlotte’s Web. I think it might have been Mathhew Cuthbert, in “Anne of Green Gables.” And then shortly after that, Emily’s dad, in “Emily of New Moon,” and that happens right out of the gate, in chapter two or something.
Wow, on an unrelated note, I just helped a little girl find a book on a famous female ornithologist. Way to be into female ornithologists!
~ by meteowrite on February 9, 2007.
3 Responses to “fictional mortality — part one”
1. I think killing off minor characters is an author’s way of neatly getting rid of them once they serve no real purpose. I actually got that idea from “Anne of Green Gables”, if you recalled that writing group that Anne started with her girl-friends, one of the girls (Diana perhaps) would kill off the characters because she just didn’t know what to do with them…and I think that real authors do that, just so they can concentrate on the important characters and events that are going to happen.
silverneurotic said this on February 9th, 2007 at 6:03 pm
2.I’m not sure exactly where this notion stands in relation to the mainstream, but I’ve always heard/assumed that the only really acceptable way to kill off a character is if the character seems to kill himself off. That is to say, that any time an author says something like, “Hm, maybe I’ll kill this character now,” he’ll be in the wrong, whereas saying something more like, “Oh, no, I think this character is about to die,” he’ll be in the right. And I was also under the impression that this was the generally held opinion on the topic.
elletrice said this on February 10th, 2007 at 9:33 am
3.The first bookish death I remember was, of course, crucial to the story–Arthur’s death at the hands of Modered. It was some childrens version of the great story, and it got me started on a lifelong trek into the Arthur cycle. I keep looking for “alternative endings”, but of course there aren’t any that make sense, or at least there weren’t until Finovar.
Goodyear said this on February 12th, 2007 at 11:02 am