When I started thinking up the plot for Bob Moore: Desperate Times, I knew I wanted to start with a big event. Something that would propel the story, and the characters, forward. Nothing does that like a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, to make something like that hit home for the reader, you have to kill someone they care about. A character they have invested time and energy into getting to know and, hopefully, liking.
When I first read George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, I was thrown for a complete loop when he killed a major character (I won't reveal who here though I'm guessing most of you have already read the book/seen the show). I remember laying the book down and thinking, "Man, if that character can die, no one is safe!" It was a disquieting realization.
Too many authors, I believe, become emotionally attached to their characters. They love them and want the best for them. Heck, most authors will freely admit that they put much of themselves into their characters. The more of themselves they put into those characters, it seems, the harder they are to kill (or even hurt it seems). So up pops the deus ex machina, in walks the guy you thought was dead to save the day, out comes the lucky break only the main character seems to have.
To me, this is the ultimate betrayal to the reader.
I've recently finished reading a six book series by a well-known author. In all that, not a single main character stayed dead. Oh, at the end of a chapter they might be impaled, surrounded by enemies, or hanging on for dear life, but in the end, they'd make it through. The author used the "red shirt" method to show that situations were dangerous but the reader quickly learned that main characters were never in real danger.
From the standpoint of a reader, I couldn't have been more annoyed. It became a game of seeing if I could spot the "out" (the way the author was going to save the characters) before they were revealed in the text. If this were a series aimed at kids or teens, I could understand the hesitation to kill characters. But it wasn't.
A character that the reader doesn't feel is in any real danger isn't compelling just like a character you know is going get the girl/boy/treasure/prize isn't thrilling - it's inevitable. Of course, we all realize that the central character will most likely make it out alive but we should, as a reader, be worried. That fear is what keeps us turning the pages; not discovering what clever ruse the author came up with to save them this time. The only way to keep that tension within your reader is to be ruthless with your characters. While you'll get some hate mail from fans of those characters that had to be sacrificed (my first one came from my wife, the second from my first reviewer), at the very least, your readers will be involved.
And isn't that the point?
Audioholics.com and host of the AV Rant podcast. He's been writing mostly reviews but has lately returned to his prose roots. He has written many unpublished short stories, poems, and a few screenplays that may still be produced. He's the father of three boys affectionately nicknamed Punkalicious, Captain Evil, and Neo. He's happily married and currently resides in Perth, Australia. His background is in drama, creative writing, and research psychology which basically means his kids are in for a pretty rough time. His wife, Tanel, doesn't have it so easy either.
You can find Tom online at: http://www.tomandry.com/ where you can find out more about his book Bob Moore: No Hero and Bob Moore: Desperate Times. Tom has also recently finished a series of blog posts on self-publishing for iBookstore, Smashwords, Kindle, and Nook.
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Thanks for visiting with us again Tom!