I feel a hell of a lot better than I did last night, so that means I’ll be able to focus on tonight’s blog entry a little better (in between little kitten keyboard dances). I took a glorious nap after work, which seems a little silly since my initial plans for tonight included a post going into how I need to work on building better writing habits by doing and not doing certain things. Like how I should break my cycle of post-work naps that tend to last far longer than they should. That post will still happen, of course.
Just not on a day I napped for two hours. I’m not that big of a hypocrite, damn it.
Marceline the Kitten Queen is settling into her new home well. She’s learned she can jump very high. It’s very cute when she jumps up to windowsills or joins Brianne or me on the couch. It’s less cute when she keeps hopping up onto the table so she can sample my dinner. Needless to say, it’s a bit difficult to focus now that there is an adorable new kitten here, making a total of three adorable cat-beasts in the house.
That’s why tonight’s post is going to be about murder.
Day Twenty-Eight – Standard “killing your darlings” business
Calm down. I’m not going to talk about killing my cats. I couldn’t resist transitioning from “d’awww adorable kittens” to talking about murder. It’s the logical progression, right? This piece was inspired thanks to an article on Entertainment Weekly (DO NOT READ IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, AS IT CONTAINS GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY SPOILERS), which can be found here, complaining about Marvel’s tendency to kill-but-not-kill characters in their movies. I already went off on a rant with Brianne about how wrong the article is, so you’re all safe from that much. For now, anyway.
There’s plenty to be said about killing your darlings, and I’ve consumed a good deal of media in which a character’s death, oftentimes sudden and heart-stompingly painful, is used as some major plot device. Naturally, there’s plenty of thoughts on the effectiveness and worth of going all off-with-their-heads on your characters. There’s, of course, the trope of the orphaned protagonist (or, conversely, the orphaned antagonist who has turned to evil because of life’s woes). Parents in Disney movies have a rather horrific mortality rate that goes along with this. There’s the love interest whose death acts as a powerful motivator. The sagely older character who only acts as a mentor before getting snuffed out, as if there’s some requisite length of time wise elders must spend dispensing knowledge before they can take their final dirt nap. The list goes on.
However, when is it really necessary versus just another cheap tool to use on your audience? When is it really okay to have Careless Driver run over Timmy’s best puppy pal in the whole wide world? And when is it just a cheap, evil ploy to force an audience to feel a certain way, or as a convenient vehicle for the plot?
In regards to when is it necessary versus a cheap ploy, I say it’s harder to determine necessity. It’s easy to spot when the body count is directly tied to being shocking, dragging out certain feelings, and so on, but it’s less simple to say “Well, this person needed to die at this precise time because [reason]”. Especially in the case of offing a character as motivation. Does the story-world really need another little orphan Annie (no, by the way, it doesn’t)? I ask this all with a chuckle, with my current project starting with a princess’ mother (that’d be the queen for those of you whose attention spans are as bad as mine) spends the opening scenes…well, getting assassinated. As far as I’m concerned, it’s justifiable homicide of a fictional character.
I’m choosing my words carefully, as I Googled “Borgia poison of choice” earlier, and I can’t help but suspect that’s landed me on at least one major government watch list. In the event I am on such lists, I’d ask the people who are keeping an eye on me to be so kind as to share my blog posts. I need the views, damn it. Moving on.
Killing characters is a very personal matter, and it really comes down to what the story really wants. Not the writer, artist, etc. That’s how you determine if a death is really worthy of happening or if you’re just a little to keen to dull an ax against someone’s fictional neck. Does the story benefit from this death? Does it drive the plot forward, but not in a forced or lazy way? Does it generate real emotional pain or is it an attempt at demanding the audience feel something in a situation where no emotional response would likely occur? If the casualties in project are reaching George R.R. Martin numbers it may be time to reconsider how you’re handling the story. Note: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the way Martin kills characters off with the same frequency that most people breathe. I’m just suggesting how it’s really important to weigh each death accordingly. If it helps, place yourself in the characters shoes. Really get into the role. Would your death be helpful to the story? Oh, and don’t wimp out. This shit is important.
Seventy-two days remaining.