My Writing Evolution: Becoming a Stone-Cold Killer

Posted: November 14, 2011 in Ruminations

There are many differences between good writers and great writers, and I think that one of the things that can really make the difference is this: Great writers are often willing to be murderers.

This is something I’m trying to keep in mind lately, and to which I am trying to reconcile myself. Not that I’m a great writer, mind you…or maybe I am and the world just doesn’t know it (if I can paraphrase the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12, “I’m not saying I’ve attained the goal, but I’m sure working hard to strive for reaching it”). In any case, I’m not full of myself and declaring myself a full evolved fiction writer…but I see myself achieving now an important step along the path.

Oh, you’re still stuck on the “great writers need to be murderers” thing?

That’s probably for the best. It was my main point, after all, and I should get back to it.

If I want to be a great writer, there is a good chance I’m going to have to become a stone-cold killer.

Well, maybe not “stone-cold,” since there’s a good chance I’ll feel remorse. But I’m going to have to kill, I think. I don’t mean someone who deserves it, either. I mean that I am going to have to take the life of an innocent, or at the very least a good person who doesn’t deserve me snatching away his or her life.

The fact that the first of my victims…and those who may follow and mark my bloody path…will be fictional doesn’t really spare me from pain and guilt.

It may not seem like much to many of you that I will likely kill in my stories. Hell, I already have, many times. But what I’m talking about is looking a character in the eye with whom I have a strong connection, and likely readers do as well, and telling that person that he or she is done for.

But this isn’t an easy thing. Chances are, if I have a character in a novel or long-running serial whom I have spent time developing, I probably like that character, regardless of his or her moral compass. I might even love that character. And because I created that individual with love, there are probably readers who will have an investment in the character as well.

Still, I’ll have to kill some of these people. I will have to force myself not to save them when their times come. I will have to resist the urge to bring them back to life (unless it serves a specific plotline to do so, and how many plotlines of mine are realistically going to hinge on rising from the dead?). I will have to endure what might be a backlash from my own readers, whom I also love.

This is a hard thing.

But I’ve seen in novels and movies that the best writers do, from time to time, take a beloved character who deserves a happy ending…and they kill him or her. It’s happened more than once in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R.R. Martin, on which the cable series “Game of Thrones” is based. I saw anguished posting by people on Twitter when that series aired this past season and a noble character who had quickly grown on viewers got axed early, just like in the novels. I saw it in the movie “Serenity,” that sort of closed the Joss Whedon television series “Firefly” (which was cancelled way too early) and involved the death of a character I don’t think anyone would have expected…or wanted…to perish.

I know. All this drama, and I haven’t even done it yet. But in the on-hiatus novel-writing project I have over at my Holy Sh!+ blog and the stuff here, which will continue even after “The Gathering Storm” reaches its conclusion, there are characters I love who are going to die. Some I don’t know yet are going to die, and it will come as a shock to me first, and perhaps to you later. For other characters, some of them in my ongoing “Cleansed By Fire” novel and at least one here in the world of the Whethermen, I know that death is approaching.

But I have to be willing to kill. If I want my stories to matter and if I want my worlds to have meaning, not all characters’ stories can have happy endings. And for that I apologize, in advance.

To them and to you.

(This is one part of a kind of thematic dual-post. For the “other part,” click here and visit my Holy Sh!+ from Deacon Blue blog)

  1. Bleu says:

    I would agree with you…partially on the murderers being good writers. Other good writers include: prison inmates, mental asylum patients and dentists.

  2. Deacon Blue says:

    Well, here’s hoping I won’t have to become a REAL killer or sadist…most especially not a…*gasp*…dentist.

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