Killing Characters

How do we kill those characters we like?

You can’t write a story about war and not have a death or two, right? For God’s sake, half the characters in ‘Catch-22‘ bite the big one (a few of them memorably, like Snowden). Military conflict and death go hand-in-hand. Some important characters must meet their end.

Other memorable scenes include R.P. McMurphy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ of course. It was a tragedy that had to happen. Or scientist Matt Hooper from ‘Jaws.’ (Spared in the film, his gruesome literary end would leave anyone in Brody’s shoes with survivor’s guilt.)
Or Sirius Black from ‘Harry Potter and The Order of Phoenix.’ This one bugged me. Harry needs this living ‘family’ member, a connection to the past that was his parents. And the way Rowling killed him off–his being hit by a spell and falling through the gray-veil doorway–left it open for Harry to bring him back. I wonder if the author herself wasn’t sure what to do about him, thus the mystery. Sadly, he never reappears, and Harry is left without any mentors.

A smug Sirius Black, played by Gary Oldman, from the Harry Potter series.

Killing Characters, the How and Why?

Taking the axe to someone we’ve brought to life is a morbid facet of writing. Obviously, many authors really enjoy it (and some are guilty of, er, overkill).

So how do we kill of people correctly? What is appropriate?

I’ve always tried to write with certain parameters in mind. What is likely? What is realistic? Let the answers to these questions inform the all-important ‘How.’

Combat action is very fast. The different accounts I’ve read (such as ‘Black Hawk Down‘) tell how an intense firefight can last a mere 30 seconds, with thousands of rounds traded across an alley. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for a tearful, schmaltzy farewell.

The Harsh Reality

In ‘Destruction,’ a lot of people perish. It is, at its heart, a story about war. And, for the sake of being realistic, that meant killing off a gentle character I enjoyed creating–a man I’d like to see in other tales and settings. (They could all be tainted by the barn-door analogy, however, a la ‘Solo.’)

Like June Vereeth’s mentor/boss Joffe in ‘Endgame,’ it happens in a flash. (In ‘Endgame’ all Vereeth knows is that the cave ceiling is collapsing, and she and her friend are being shoved away, by Joffe. After the dust settles, she finds his hand protruding from a pile of rock.) This time, she has to watch it–from a distance, unable to do anything about it, during action.

Justin Edison's Destruction, second in the Woman at War series, will be out in 2018.

It’s what fits. And, in a story where Karma is turned on its head, this likeable man perishes while a sexist asshole lives. Obviously, this echoes real life. Fair? Not a chance. Art imitates life, doesn’t it?

And could any of us picture McMurphy carrying on as a piece of broccoli, anyway?

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

Editing Destruction

Things are looking up for Captain June Vereeth. With friends, she escaped the madness of icy P-75. She brought a couple trophies (prisoners of war) back from the outlaw world of Shen-Zinkh. Now she’s even having fun climbing the picturesque mountains of Zycarsus with a new male friend, smiling in the sunshine…

Well, not exactly. She and this new friend (nicknamed Hulk) and 30 other soldiers are hauling themselves up 3000 feet into a maddening fogged-in world. They’re looking for a downed freighter. They’re lost, because they can’t use anything electronic and nobody has a map. And those pesky Mitasterites will have some competition for deadliest foe in this abandoned world.

Justin Edison's Destruction, second in the Woman at War series, will be out in 2018.

First draft done, coffee chugged, I’m now editing Destruction (love my cheery title). And it’s going…well, it’s going. To once-again begin the process of editing a book is to wrestle with a bunch of questions.

Is this what I wanted to write?

Is this story good enough?

Do the right people die (it’s about war) or lose their way?

Am I accurately rendering Vereeth and her flaws and strengths?

Can this heroine reconcile the terrible cost of armed conflict, when she’s often stuck with the most difficult choices?

After two years of notes (the opening chunk came to mind before I was done with ‘Endgame‘) do I have the product I need to have?

Am I a good-enough writer for this?

Justin Edison's three available books on a shelf

Justin Edison’s three available books on a shelf

Time will tell.

Maybe.

The Prince of Endless, pt. 7

In a regal antechamber off the royal Great Hall, the King of and Queen of Endruskenlessinia are milling about with some of the Prince’s playthings. Attendants stand by in silence. The Queen, silently weeping, is pregnant. Mahkyel (the perpetrator) enters with a guard, casually eating an apple.

The King asks, “Who could do this?” without looking up.

The Queen sniffs quietly.

Mahkyel hands the fruit to his cohort and approaches the King. “We will find him, my brother. Do not worry.”

After a three quick knocks on the floor (by an outside attendant) NEET the royal advisor enters. He is followed by Dirkennion and Marvella, flanked by four guards. Neet says, “My King, these two constables have come to offer their service.”

King looks at Neet, then at the visitors. Mahkyel leers at them. Queen makes a small sound of surprise. King glances at her, then returns to his son’s play figurine. “An Ehara, and a woman. I think not.”

Mahkyel betrays a sneer, a hand on his sword-belt.

“Good King,” Dirkennion says, bowing. “May I be allowed to speak?”

King glances at Queen again, then shakes his head curtly. The guards look ready for action. Marvella glances at Dirkennion in question.

While the King’s back is turned, Neet and Queen meet eyes for a second.

Neet says, “Very well, my King. Come!” he says to the visitors. He leads Dirkennion and Marvella and the guards away.

Mahkyel steps close to his brother. “I will find our Prince, my King. We have some clues to follow.”

King nods with sorrow, handling the figurine.

Sky-painted ceiling in Hartlaxton Manor, UK~~~

Outside the Royal Hall, Neet leads the party to a guard house and dismisses the men posted there. He tells one guard to stay and the rest to go on. Dirkennion looks at him, curious.

“You are Ehara, ever honorable. Is this not so?”

“It is so,” Dirkennion replies. Marvella doesn’t understand what is happening.
Neet pulls a bejeweled bracelet from a cloth in his pocket. “The Queen has two of these. Its match is missing.”

Dirkennion holds the bracelet up to study it.

“That must be worth a fortune,” Marvella says.

“Correct, Lady Constable.”

Dirkennion returns it. “You believe the match was payment?”

“It is my strong guess. Prince Juno’s schedule is kept within an inner circle as tight as the Queen’s jewelry. And I would surely be a fool to ignore how often the King’s brother Mahkyel scowls in the Prince’s direction.”

Marvella reacts. “Ah, that would explain a number of things.”

On the far side of the courtyard, Mahkyel and eight torch-bearing riders emerge from the royal stables and speed toward the main gate. Dirkennion watches them cautiously, staying hidden in the guard house.

“Mister Ehara,” Neet says, to get his attention.

“Dirkennion. This is Marvella,” he adds, introducing her.

“The King must save face, even among his inner circle. If word got out of his weakness in a time of crisis…”

“It would be a boon to his enemies.”

“And the Queen?” Marvella asks.

Neet swallows. “She is desperate. As a mother, she fears the worst.”

“What happens to an advisor who is found to have gone against the King’s wishes?” Dirkennion says.

Neet shrugs sadly. “Unknown. The Prince is a good child, just a kind soul. He is all that matters,” Neet adds.

Dirkennion glances at Marvella. “Very well,” he says to Neet. “You have our word–we will do what we can to rescue the Prince.”

“With much gratitude, Mister Dirkennion,” Neet says, bowing respectfully.

He leaves and the impressed guard escorts them to the other guardhouse to retrieve their weapons and packs and Marvella’s horse.

Dirkennion asks him, “You will not speak of this?”

“Agreed,” the guard returns.

As Dirkennion and Marvella collect their things, she says, “I notice you did not promise a safe return of the child.”

Dirkennion nods. “To do so would be foolish. We do not know his condition, now.”

“I hope it’s not too late,” she says, mounting her horse.

to be continued…

 

 

My First Podcast Interview

Hey, guess what!

Yours truly was interviewed by the wonderful Pat Rullo at Speak Up Talk Radio. Listen here!

The half-hour chat was a chance to talk about my books (I guess not all writers want to do so) and the mistakes and trials of getting to where I am as far as storytelling, confidence and craft are concerned. (Financial success is, naturally, another matter.)

This podcast will, in time, be available on channels like iTunes and iHeartRadio and others. So, have a listen and ping me with any questions or feedback.

Author Justin Edison dabbles in politics, helping out Dr. Kim Schrier for WA's 8th District

Rock on, guys!