Monday, 10 December 2012

The Butcher's Bill

Lots of fantasy takes place in incredibly dangerous worlds. Tyrants and dragons abound, villains and varlets are commonplace, and heroes (or anti-heroes) struggle to survive.

Or do they?

The questions of how many characters of importance to kill off and whether or not very major characters should be killed are not easy ones to answer.

Killing off a character brings their part in a story (usually) to a dramatic and permanent close, and can either make a story all the more enthralling or irritate the reader to a significant degree. Particularly in series, killing characters can be something that writers are often loathe to do, as it permanently removes someone to whom the readership has hopefully become emotionally attached.

But, if the world is dangerous and the adversaries are deadly, how credible is it to have everyone survive with nothing but flesh wounds?

Credibility in fantasy can be tricky, as it often involves suspending disbelief when it comes to dragons and magic and elves. However, I think a key part of a believable fantasy world is having credible, realistic characters and people who survive every danger are incredible.

Killing off significant figures presents a great opportunity for writers as well as terminating (hopefully) entertaining characters. When major characters die it instils a sense of uncertainty about whether or not others will live and gives subsequent violent scenes a greater edge of danger.

It's important that death fits the story and isn't included purely for shock value. It has to at least make sense and be plausible, if not actually meaningful.

Sometimes a plot also demands that someone not wearing a red Star Trek uniform gets killed. War is the most obvious example, and because Bane of Souls revolves around one or more murderers I wanted to make sure that it didn't fall into the trap of having lots of murder victims but everyone connected with the plot/protagonist surviving.

I think it's also the case that a death can be a strong, character-defining moment. If the village idiot sacrifices his life to save a spoilt brat it can recast the idiot as a hero and set the brat on a new path.



  1. I take it that this post is just your guilt trip having finally decided to kill off the handsome,debonair, brave and principled llama character in the new book.

    Well, shame on you but I will cope. Just get on with finishing the thing.

  2. Oh, and whilst I am here when are you going to publish your reviews of Dishonoured and Far Cry 3?

  3. Mr. Llama, you must pay attention. I have told you that there is a character named after you, but he's mentioned only in passing [but also significant enough that he could play a substantial role in a future book. At the moment his plotting would play a part in the civil war, but I'm undecided as to whether he'll actually make an appearance].

    I'm still working, though sleeping badly isn't helping much.

    As for Dishonoured (amused you corrected the spelling) and Far Cry, the latter will probably never be reviewed, and I don't have the former. The last time I checked Dishonoured was about £20, so I may buy it after the Christmas.

    The closest thing to a dead cert purchase as far as games are concerned is The Last Of Us (May 2013). I plan on writing a "Things to look forward to" post early in 2013, which will cover books, DVDs, games and so on.

  4. "I don't have the former [Dishonoured]"

    Would you like it as a Christmas Present (serious question)? I'd love to know what you make of it and I reminded that the theme of your first post on this blog was "Why is it always set in Medieval England?" Well, dishonoured ain't it is set in a rather odd world.

  5. It's a generous offer, Mr. Llama, but I must decline (this year at least). I do all my present buying early on, and need to have ages to consider what to get.

    I'm aware of the unusual world of Dishonoured. Incidentally, if you're after a book with a non-stereotypical fantasy world then Tales of the Ketty Jau are very enjoyable (Retribution Falls being the first).