Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gratuity in Death

Woke up this morning ruminating on death. I'm killing off a character in my latest novel, and [as usual] it ain't easy.

It got me thinking about the quality of death, particularly fictional death. Now, my Potter Protest notwithstanding, I have always been a HUGE admirer of J.K. Rowling. I love her imagination, her use of language and the brilliant mythologies woven through the Harry Potter stories.

However, [speaking purely as a reader, here] I have to say the final book of the series was a massive disappointment for me.

Yes, I think the story suffered from poor editing by the end, but that was likely a result of what I like to call 'Stephen King syndrome' -- when an author is SO hugely successful, it seems the editors begin to take a hands-off policy, as if every word is pure gold. Not really the fault of the author, unless they start believing their own press.

But in this case, what bothered me the most was the gratuity of the deaths of several major characters. Now, in reality, of course, death is often random, senseless and can occur in ways that seem meaningless and empty. I guess my question here is whether fictional death should mirror reality in that way. I hated to see characters in a story I loved more or less randomly killed off.

[But it was a war! That's what happens in war -- even in stories, you idiot! --- This parenthetical voice, by the way, is the devil's advocate who sits in my brain, poking me with her pitchfork and shrilling.---]

Okay, okay. I don't want to get too specific here, as I'd hate to spoil anyone's reading of the final HP book. So let's take this back to what I see as my responsibility as a writer.

I always begin a new story on the premise that I am making a promise to my readers. This is why I write fiction. I make a promise that somehow, no matter how bleak the subject matter, there is always some reason for hope.

Veering back into someone else's purview for a moment, I offer as an example THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. Now this story is just about as bleak a taste of post-apocalyptic fiction as they come. But it is not nihilism. There is still, even with all the death and devastation McCarthy puts his characters to, a single ray of hope at the end.

Characters die in stories. Even fairy tales. But fiction allows for the freedom to grant my characters some meaning in death.

Least I can do.


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