Mark A. Carter - novelist

"Kill them. Kill them all."

KILLING literary characters:
blood, necessity, and pain

World famous Canadian Science Fiction writer Mark A. Carter rants about the blood, the necessity, and the pain of killing his literary creations.

I used to have a major problem back in the day. I couldn't kill my literary characters. I would invest so much in their development that I just couldn't end them no matter how much they deserved to die, and no matter how much their demise was necessary to push the plot forward. I just couldn't do it. It was a major, psychological stumbling block, as you can well imagine.

As an exercise, I used to imagine, as I'm sure every good psychopath does, killing everyone who ever did me wrong. I would imagine every sort of horrific means to their demise, given ideal circumstances in which I could get away with the murders. I imagined the blood ... blood everywhere ... fountains of blood. But alas, the perfect circumstances only occur in fiction and sometimes not even there. It, physical age, and a bout of poor health, let alone my perpetual quest for a good night of pain-free sleep, are the only things preventing me from being a night stalker in real life. And then there's that problem about being sane. Also, it seems like a costly vocation and I'm just too damned cheap. And, oh yes, there's that damned pesky wife who is bound to ask questions like: "Where were you?" and "Why are your clothes covered in blood?" I know ... blood, blood, blood. But the one lingering stumbling block for me is I'm just too sane or perhaps too lazy or too neurotic to clean up such a sticky mess. Darn. But it proved to be a good exercise. I did, though, secretly believe that I was a wee bit daft for ever engaging in it until my wife and I spoke of it over tea one evening and she told me she sometimes imagined blood, blood, blood. It's always the quiet ones.

Anyway, there's nothing I can imagine that some psycho out there hasn't already done. But that's beyond the point. What the exercise did was free my mind to the simple act of killing my characters as a matter of course, when necessary. I suppose, in a way, it desensitized me.

Another great exercise is figuring out how to dispose of the body. But that's the subject for another day and another web page.

A general rule of thumb is that you can kill millions of characters if the reader isn't attached to them. But you can only kill a handful if the reader is attached. And some, the primary female and male, the couple in love in a romance, you can kill, but do so at your peril. If you do, your readers will scream for your head and come after you with pitchforks and sickles. At least, if you kill one or the other or both of these characters, bring them back somehow. Their deaths or pseudo-deaths generate tension, and that is necessary, but only serves as the separation leading to the eventual celebration, marriage, or reunion that we expect at the end of a Comedy. It's where William Shakespeare got it wrong in Romeo and Juliet. You have to bring them back, Will. Nobody wants to spend three hours watching what turns out to be an Irony when they paid to see a Comedy. Nobody wants to leave with a bad taste in their mouth. Give me a break. Anyway, if you bring them back you'll be off the hook, and not a moment too soon.

Don't be afraid to kill your literary creations. But kill wisely. Every death should advance character and/or plot.

Ironically, for me, I wrote Science Fiction for years and couldn't kill off my creations. Then I switched to High Romance and suddenly became Freddy Krueger from Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street. Kill. Kill. Kill. Sheesh.

For example, in my Mythpunk novel Hephzibah of Heaven, I revisit the crucifixion and kill off Jesus Christ not once but twice. I visit the plague years, the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition the atomic mass destruction at the end of W.W.II, and destroy planet Earth entirely. I kill off the men who travel aboard a starship into the future to repopulate the planet. And, lest I reveal too much of the plot, disintegrate the Prince of Darkness himself. Baby, when I get cooking, do I cook?

In Thea of the Seraphim, the prequel to Hephzibah of Heaven , I kill off much of the Angelic Chorus; plus, Adonai and Hephzibah during the War of Heaven. And I kill off human Dream Warriors who help Thea and Alex battle evil in the War of Hell.

"Here comes a candle

to light you to bed.

Here comes a chopper

to chop off your head."

Oranges and Lemons

Roud Folk Song Index #13190

And wouldn't you know it, in the sequel to Hephzibah of Heaven, entitled Tellusian Seed I kill off, well, all of creation and then some. I couldn't kill more of everything if I tried. And I am a better writer for it. I think. Let me check whether I really did it or have been typing a manuscript full of REDRUM, with apologies to Stephen. Nope. I did it. Looks good.

"Hey Donna, I'm over that can't kill my characters thing." Who would have thunk it?

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from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - writer

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