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Killing off a character Marion Rose

November 10, 2010


This week I’m in mourning – for a character I’ve come to know, and absolutely love. No, it’s not Jack Duckworth from Coronation Street, though I gather millions are missing him like one of their family. My grief is for a character in the children’s novel I’m reading. A loveable voice that is still in my head – funny, loyal and utterly real.

But as well as sadness I’m feeling a little bit angry. Did this death really have to happen? Is it justified? It’s making me ask what DOES make a ‘good’ death in fiction? There are some deaths I can think of that are completely heart-rending yet also absolutely right for the storyline. Charlotte in ‘Charlotte’s web’ for one. Private Peaceful is another.

In both those cases, the character dies to give life to others. And that is also true of this character. And yet for me, this death does not satisfy. For one thing, it’s left me thinking less of the characters who do survive. But much, much worse, the world of the novel left behind is so much duller, in fact positively impoverished, with this character no longer there. (Writer beware!)

I haven’t mentioned the character’s name in case you have not yet read  “The Knife of Never Letting go” by Patrick Ness, the first of a trilogy. This first book tells the story of a boy’s flight from everything he knows. It’s set in a strange and highly original world where men’s thoughts cannot be kept private but are out there as Noise. In all other respects I thought this novel exceptional – brave and fresh and very compelling.  Read it, if you haven’t already. My hope is, that the next two novels may cast a redeeming light on this (for me) too-early death.

Meanwhile, I’d be interested to know if anyone else has strong feelings about the killing of a character – be it your own, or someone else’s?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2010 11:07 am

    Well, first of all I’m not yet over Jack’s death. I started watching Corrie with my Mum and a big pot of tea when I was little, its been a part of my life for so long. But the killing off of a character is one of the great dilemma’s for writers I agree. Look at poor old Conan Doyle and the contortions he had to go through. I actually find it easier to start with a dead character, if that’s any help.

  2. November 11, 2010 5:17 pm

    Hm. This is a difficult one. Something has to redeem the darkness, I think. As a child, I always wept buckets when Bevis in Rosemary Sutcliff’s ‘Knight’s Fee’ dies. But what redeems it is that the hero, Randal, once the despised Saxon dog-boy and now Bevis’s squire, becomes a knight in his place and eventually inherits his estate.

    Bevis comes from a usurping Norman family, and Randal comes from a people who have lost their land after the Norman Conquest. So, whilst Bevis’s death is still desperately sad, it’s all right, too.

    At least, that’s how I felt at eight, when I first read it – children have a strong sense of natural justice.

  3. childrensauthor permalink
    November 17, 2010 8:44 pm

    killing off a character – only if it serves a purpose. Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction HAS to make sense, truth (reality) doesn’t.
    hence story, myth and karma (socio-religio-political story) are trying to make sense of a seemingly senseless reality.
    I suppose gritty urban realism may not make much sense compared to a parable of faith…

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