Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Keeping Heroes Heroic

Keeping Heroes Heroic

When I was a wee little lass, scarcely old enough to be allowed to remain awake during napping time, far from understanding the complexities of writing—though my timeline is likely a little mixed up (few young children categorize: On this date, at three o’ clock in the afternoon, I decided I want to be a writer), I doubt I had any interest in writing stories at that point.

Ah, but I loved to read. This was a good thing, with all of the reading we young ones did for school in those days, and through studying certain old legends and myths, I found myself a hero. A brave man, strong, the very best of the king’s knights. I adored him, my hero, and through a few weeks of study, decided he must have been the best man in medieval history.

His name was Lancelot du Lac. And before you ask: no, I didn’t know.

The first time I wept at a book wasn’t a gentle sniffle or misty eyes. No, it was with tears streaming down my face, barely able to speak, tears clogging my voice as I gasped, “No, Lancelot, don’t, please.

On that day, my first hero fell.

He did the thing with Guinevere that even I, a small lass though I was, knew was wrong. I desperately hoped that he’d turn back, that he’d make things right, but the hero that I had loved never did. Furthermore, Lancelot and Guinevere caused everything to fall to pieces. Wow. Well done, you two.

There is so much stress these days on giving your heroes (or heroines) flaws. It doesn’t matter who they are, where they come from, or what they do — as long as they make horrible decisions, mistakes, or are wretched people. While I’m all for having characters that are people (and therefore are fallible, have doubts sometimes, make mistakes, and may have flaws), there’s such an emphasis on making sure they aren’t perfect, that people seem to have forgotten what heroes are.

Heroes are the men and the women who step up and do what’s right, no matter how hard it is. They’re the folks who never give up the fight. Sure, they consider quitting. But eventually, they keep fighting for what is right and good, because that’s what  hero does.

To quote The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything*, “The hero isn’t the smartest, strongest, or the best looking. The heroes are the ones who do what’s right.”

What you look for in a hero, which many people try and fake with flaws, is personality. Instead of throwing in random flaws or terrible habits, take the time to develop your characters into the type of person who is a hero. People look to fiction to find heroes (whether we ought to or not). Make your character the type who inspires your readers to do good.

Though, what matters in the end is not whether or not they were a perfect person during the book. They may have made mistakes at times — huge mistakes. But in the end, if they understand, if they want to make it right, if they’ve learned, and if they’ve turned themselves around, they are heroes.

Lancelot never got that. Perhaps, if Lancelot had turned himself around and did his best to make right what couldn’t really be made right, he would still be my favorite character, or at least the Arthurian Legends would still be my favorite of all the legends.

But this once good hero crashed, failed, and did not find redemption. And I never remember loving any other character as much as I loved him. I never cried over a book as much as I cried over him. I never again trusted a hero as much as I trusted him.

You may be laughing to yourself. Boy, does that sound overly dramatic. But it is true.

Make your heroes heroes.  Make them love and live, and die, and make mistakes, but make them right. (Actually, the die part isn’t really necessary.)

As an afterthought: I may still be just a tad prickly about Lancelot. Beware what you comment.

*You may think you’re too old for The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. You aren’t. It’s one of my favorite movies — and I am very picky about my movies. 

The #1 Rule of Killing Characters

The #1 Rule of Killing Characters

What is the #1 rule of killing characters? 

Aha! You know this one, don’t you?

“Always have a reason for death.” Good rule, but not the rule.

“Never kill off your main character.” Heh…heh…heh.

“Just kill your character and avoid the miraculous healing?” Ah, you are clever, aren’t you? But that’s still not the rule of killing characters.

“The rule is, always have a– *static*” Shh. I’m not ready to reveal what the rule is yet.

You should always have a reason for death. Your plot should always, without fail, benefit from the death of one of your people. Your characters should go on a lovely development arc following the traumatic experience of losing their father, best friend, or love interest (it cannot possibly be the mother, since they’re always dead at the beginning of the story).

You should always have a realistic way for them to die (avoiding shooting your henchmen in the arm and expecting them to die (Roy Rogers, I’m looking at you). There should usually be foreshadowing leading up to the death of a character, but not always.

What, then, could possibly be the rule for killing characters?

In truth, it depends on whether or not you want the character to stay dead.

Assuming you want the character to stay dead, let me show you how to use the most important rule in killing your characters.

You Will Need: 

1. Your character’s body.

And that, good readers, is all.

The #1 Rule of Killing Characters is to have a body. Have a funeral. A memorial service will not do at all; you need to actually have the body mentioned.

I know a few of you will be staring wide-eyed at your computer screen and spluttering in surprise at my apparent morbidity, “Athelas, why?”

A couple of years ago, in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series, a character died off-screen. Immediately, I jumped at that. The character, obviously, was still alive.

Longer ago than that, while the death of a character in Adventures in Odyssey was mentioned, his body never was. Bingo. He was, obviously, still alive.

And, if you have any knowledge of Marvel (while I’ve never watched anything Marvel, I’ve learned quite a bit from Pinterest), you’ll know that a body is absolutely necessary. There are so many other characters I could mention who I knew would be coming back because of their lack of a body. Sometimes I was right, at other times, I was wrong; each time, I waited for the character to stride once again through the door.

While your reputation will determine if a reader automatically assumes the character is still alive, I know I – and several others – will immediately say, “Nope, he’s alive,” if you don’t present the body to us.

The readers assumptions technically change nothing of how the story proceeds, but as any author knows, the reader is always right. Even when they’re wrong, their thoughts, their impressions, and their convictions about the story will never leave them. If you lack a body for your dead character, your reader will be on the edge of their seat, waiting for the fellow to pop up again.

When he doesn’t, you’ll leave them disappointed. And we’re trying to not disappoint our readers, remember?

Make them cry, yes. Make them laugh, yes. But never disappoint them.

Note: I must admit, I’ve been rather lazy about posting on this blog recently. I’m sorry to have disappointed you by being thus, and I shall endeavor to do better.


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