Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Killing our characters


Warning -- This post will contain spoilers from the following: Stranger than Fiction, Divergent, Insurgent, Mockingjay, Delerium. While I typically white out the spoilers, the below post contains too many for this to be possible. I will post a small warning before each spoiler.

Last night the Mister and I watched Stranger than Fiction together. Now I’d seen the movie in the past, but that was before I admitted to my dream of becoming an author, before I really let the stories in my head and heart come to life. I’m in the middle of a rewrite of my current WIP right now, and I know that somewhere along the line there are certain characters I’m getting to know, becoming close to, falling in love with, who may die.

For those of you who may not remember the film (SPOILER ALERT - STRANGER THAN FICTION), Harold Crick discovers he is a character in a novel. He must find the author before she kills him. When she discovers that Harold is a real person, she chooses to change the ending rather than killing Harold. This made me wonder which characters’ fates I might change if they were real people. But  beyond this, I wondered about the value of death—what purpose it really serves and what it costs us and our other characters.

Take Divergent (SPOILER ALERT - DIVERGENT) by Veronica Roth, for example. At the end of this novel, Tris is forced to kill Will, one of her new and closest friends. Not only does Will die, but our beloved protagonist becomes his murderer. I think this choice on Roth’s part is invaluable. This moment really defines much of Tris’s growth in the sequel. Without it, I don’t think she’d become the strong person she does in Insurgent. In fact, (SPOILER ALERT - INSURGENT) Tris's choice to kill Will rather than wound him becomes one of the major conflicts Tris has to deal with and overcome in Insurgent.


But unlike this death, in Mockingjay (SPOILER ALERT - MOCKINGJAY) by Suzanne Collins, I felt Prim’s death was wasted. The whole driving force behind Katniss’ choice in The Hunger Games, is to keep her family safe. By killing Prim, this is ripped away from her, making me question if it wouldn’t have been more merciful to kill Katniss in the end rather than let her suffer this fate. Perhaps if Prim’s death had come at some other point in the story—say the end of Catching Fire—it could’ve served as an even stronger force for Katniss’ actions in Mockingjay. To me, that would have done Prim’s life and Katniss' choices more justice. Instead, Prim's death felt forced and wrong.  The timing didn’t line up with Katniss’ character growth. It just seemed like another stab in the wound that had been three books building. Perhaps that was Collins plan all along, and if so then I applaud her for achieving the goal. But as a reader, this left me unsatisfied.  I’m curious as to what your thoughts are on this.


Now with Delirum (SPOILER ALERT - DELERIUM) by Lauren Oliver, I’m not sure what to think. As a note, I’m not actually going to include the spoiler. For those of you who’ve read it, you know what I’m referring to. I finished the book over the weekend and plan to have a review up later this month. But I’m curious as to where the series will go from here.  I think it’s too soon to tell if the death at the end of this book was wasted. I’m guessing it will drive Lena’s growth as a character, but I’m interested to see if it will be the sacrifice Oliver intended or if it will fall short for me the way the previously mentioned death did.

What about you? What do you think about these deaths? Are there others that seemed wasted? Necessary? How do you deal with death in your own stories?

6 comments:

  1. I'm glad you didn't include the Delirium spoiler because I'm reading it now (but I wasn't able to tear my eyes away from your post!).

    Deaths are hard - they're hard to write and hard to read. As for Mockingjay, I kind of liked Prim's death (not LIKED it, it was terrible, but you know what I mean). For me, it was a catalyst for Katniss. I think if not for her death, she would have let 13 take over, would have gone along with a new world order where nothing would have been any better than it was under the Capitol. She needed to see that both sides were willing to do anything and everything to take power. And I appreciated the irony that Prim was Katniss's only reason for fighting, and then her ally's took that away from her.

    Because wasn't that the point of the trilogy? That war is hell on children?

    That said, it just broke my heart that Prim died. I didn't want her to. But - for me - it was inevitable.

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    1. Note: Comment filled with spoilery things about The Hunger Games trilogy

      I just couldn't bring myself to include it. I'm curious to see what you think when you finish the book.

      Interesting points on MOCKINGJAY. I guess I felt Katniss would have made the decision to kill Coin with or without Prim's death based on the conversation regarding a new hunger games of sorts. For that reason, I think Prim's death could've been better placed. You did, however, make an interesting point about her allies being the ones to kill Prim. I hadn't given this much thought.

      I definitely agree Prim's death was in many ways inevitable, I just didn't feel like Collins did it justice. But I'll have to think some more about what you said--you know, mull it over and such.

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  2. Stranger Than Fiction is a brilliant, brilliant movie.

    I haven't read Divergent or Delerium but I loved the Mockingjay ending and, I think, a big part of that was because of Prim's death. Daisy puts it really well.

    In my own writing, I'm a big champion of the "kill your darlings" philosophy. No one's safe and I like it that way. That kind of makes me sound evil so I'll just insert an evil laugh here and go with it...

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    1. Note: Comment filled with spoilery things about The Hunger Games trilogy

      I agree, Daisy gave me some interesting points to consider. I still feel like Mockingjay could have had more power as a book (for me the first half seemed to drag on) if Prim had died in Catching Fire.

      Do you feel sad when you kill your darlings? Do you deliberate, or do you just know they have to die?

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  3. Why have I never seen Stranger Than Fiction? It sounds amazing!

    I actually haven't read any of these books. Gasp! ;) Someday, though. :)

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    1. The movie is definitely a good one. I really recommend it!

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