Negotiating the fate of characters

Every now and then my wife forbids me to kill a character. A good example is Bathocles in my short story The Pasion Contract where, even as I was writing it, she told (ordered) me, "Bathocles has to live."

The moment Helen wants to protect someone, it's a signal for me to maim, mutilate or destroy the guy, because it's the characters you care about that mean something when they suffer. I've never actually diverted the plot to run over a character Helen likes, but then I've never really needed to since if you're stuck in one of my stories then you're already in great danger.

This has led to some conversations that would be considered unusual in most households, such as an intense and prolonged negotiation over how many toes I was allowed to cut off one nice but care-worn fellow, Helen arguing for none and me for all but one per foot. The decision turned on how many toes were required for the character to hobble about for the rest of his life. Some of the negotiation was carried out in a public eatery and I wish to apologise to the people sitting next to us.

This reached the stage where I said, "You do realise, don't you, these people don't actually exist?" She did, but apparently it doesn't matter, which is good news for me because it means the characters are working, but probably bad news for the characters. The moral would appear to be, try hard to stay out of my stories.

23 comments:

Kosmos said...

I am an apprentice (ie unpublished lol) writer of sci-fi and my partner is an electronics engineer who I turn to often to ask how to destroy the planet, cause major disasters by diabolical means, etc etc ...

I am surprised we haven't been arrested yet for terrorism or something with the things we talk about over lunch ;)

Gary Corby said...

Hi Kosmos,

Congratulations on your continued freedom.

I presume you're aware that SF writer Cleve Cartmill and editor John Campbell were raided by the FBI when they described an atomic bomb a little bit too accurately for comfort, a year before the Manhattan Project had built one.

I'm looking forward to your equivalent feat.

Matthew Delman said...

Stories like the above are why I love your blog, Gary.

Oh, and Kosmos, I regularly have conversations with my wife and various friends about what kinds of wounds would be most effective while still allowing someone to move, psychological disorders, and what kinds of chemicals could melt stone.

Yeah, that last one was in the middle of Sears. :)

Gary Corby said...

Glad I can keep you amused Matt. So, what kinds of wounds would be most effective while still allowing someone to move?

A Writer said...

too sick to be funny, but awesome post. it brings us to wonder if Big Brother is watching us to see if we say the key words "WIP".

Gary Corby said...

Hi Carrie. Do you mean I'm sick (in which case you're probably right), or you're sick, in which case hope you get well soon.

CKHB said...

"if you're stuck in one of my stories then you're already in great danger"

You should have this made into a t-shirt or something.

Gary Corby said...

Carrie KHB, that's a great idea. Thanks! I'm going to look into it.

Amalia T. said...

I got really bummed out in my last novel, when I realized that someone might have to die and serious harm had to befall my characters. I told my husband I didn't want to be one of THOSE writers, who never lets bad things happen to her characters, and always gives them the happy ending all wrapped up with a neat little bow. Unfortunately, that means bad things have to happen to good people, sometimes...

Poor Helen. I understand completely how she feels.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Amalia, I guess I'm just ruthless. But the truth is, if you want the reader to buy into the peril facing your characters, then a few human sacrifices are necessary.

Amalia T. said...

haha. fitting for your setting.

myself, I lean toward serious emotional trauma for my characters. They suffer terribly--but nobody loses any toes.

Gary Corby said...

Emotional trauma is good too. Whatever the threat level is in the book, you have to be prepared to execute it.

SomedayAuthor said...

Great post, Gary. I like your wife already. She sounds like she keeps you on your toes! I need to be more like you, I tend to want to wrap everything up in a pretty bow...but that's not generally how life is, huh? Thanks for the stories.

Stephanie Thornton said...

It's funny that you should mention the toe thing, Gary. Well, maybe not funny, but you know what I mean. When I was reading The Time Traveler's Wife I fully expected one of the main characters to die, but when one lost body parts instead I was horrified.

I have to watch that I don't maim or murder too many people in my stories- I'm a fan of anything tragic.

Matthew Delman said...

Gary --

Nothing in the abdominal area unless you're talking about something very narrow. The abdominal aorta pretty much means that any deep strike in that region and you're down for the count.

Arms are good, so are legs above and below the knee, and maybe a direct hit on the shoulder or a graze across the side of the rib cage. That's about all I can think of right now.

My wife's a whiz when it comes to medical stuff -- I'm trying to push her into becoming a nurse or something in that field.

Kosmos said...

re above comment by Matthew:

Avoid the kneecaps unless a slow crawl is all the movement they need. I shattered one in a car accident and it makes moving a lot more difficult without one knee ;)

Gary Corby said...

Kosmos, oh dear! Are you okay now or still suffering? I guess on the plus side, when you write a character with a shattered knee you'll get points for realism.

Thanks Matt, I'll remember that. Of course even for the small wounds you have to worry about infection. There was an interesting thread on DorothyL about how many times you can be shot and keep going, and Lee Lofland had an amazing story of a for-real shootout where I think the bad guy was shot 5 times in the torso but kept going.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Trisha, yep, real life is messy. Books have to be more logical than real life, but even so you don't have to close every thread or explain everything or make every character happy.

Stephanie, maiming can certainly be more horrible than outright killing. What it means to the characters is more important than the actual wound.

arlee bird said...

Sometimes things just happen or just have to happen in order to give the story more value than a neat little package where everything turns out nice and everybody ends up happy.
We may be sad or angry or whatever but maybe that's one of the main points of the story being told.
Lee

Mimzy said...

Your wife needs to play more video games. After being the only girl in a house filled with three Halo addicted cave man wannabes I've lost almost all pity for fictional characters. Instead, it's "BOOM! Headshot!" followed by malicious laughter.

Gary Corby said...

I can't recall ever seeing Helen play a video game!

Being as I am in a house of persons of the female persuasion, we are desperately short of ultra-violent video games. The most violent thing we have is Spore. Weirdly, considering what I spend my days writing, I don't play them either.

Gary Corby said...

Welcome to the blog, Lee! You're right that if there's no reader reaction then there's no story.

Janet Reid said...

"I've never actually diverted the plot to run over a character Helen likes" just cracked me up.