A. Carter - novelist
them. Kill them all."
blood, necessity, and pain
famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist
Mark A. Carter rants about the blood, the necessity,
and the pain of killing his literary
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
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
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.
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?
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
"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.
Donna, I'm over that can't kill my characters thing."
Who would have thunk it?