I am a Murderer

[…] went back and forth on actually killing him in this story, saying “I think that it was a tough decision. I really like […] as a character, I’ve had a lot of fun writing him. He’s been big part of my run and I didn’t know that I was going to do that when the run started. It was heartbreaking to do that to […].”

The above quote was taken from an interview about a certain comic that has just been released, one that is courting a lot of controversy and backlash.

I’m not going to go into great detail about that particular comic, one because I disagree with the arc and two because this isn’t really about whether or not a cultural icon is or really isn’t a Nazi. (that should give it away… if it doesn’t, well good. Stay ignorant. You’ll be happier believe me.)

What this is really about is what a writer is and what he/she is capable of.

Writers are heinous criminals. We lie, cheat, steal; we commit adultery, we blow up buildings, send cars careening off cliffs and yes… we kill.

What prompted me to write this… (and what I’m writing about isn’t new, other authors have addressed the subject of the ‘amorality’ of writers) is the sort of nonchalance that the quote giver expresses his ‘heartbreak’ over killing off a character. Now, the author who is quoted may very well have been sincere and choked up when making that statement, I can’t really say for sure. I’m guessing it was just said in a matter-of-fact tone. It was just one of those ‘no big thing’ type statements, one that every writer makes when discussing death in their work. And for all I know, the writer did think long and hard and went back and forth about it, but in the end — went ahead and did it anyway. What troubles me about the this particular “killing” is that, it’s not really their character. The character in question belongs to a comic publishing company and other writers (including the one who invented the character for said comic book company) have spent time, energy and creative talent to bring the character to life.

In one sense, you might ask… ‘what right do you have to kill off another writer’s character?’ And on the heels of that, you might ask – hold up, ‘why are you killing them at all?’

Writer’s kill for one reason. To illicit a response from the reader. That response can vary of course, dependent on the character, their importance, the reader’s emotional connection or indifference to said character and so on and so forth.

But the goal is to get the reader to feel.

Admittedly, Death is the easiest button to push in order to get a response from a reader. A lot of that has to do with how we view death in real life… how much of our lives is spent trying to avoid it, how many of our fellows are scared of it, how much of it takes place around us… and how many times how unexpected it is.

A writer kills because it serves the story.

Of course I had to have Sean Bean die in this post – ’cause reasons

Sometimes this is done with great skill and attention to detail, the writer has skillfully drawn the character so that the reader is affected long after the story is over and done with. The impact resonates.

Other times its ham-handed and ineffective, the reader can see it coming or isn’t invested enough in the character to care one way or the other about the event. It’s treated with a sigh and a shrug and quickly forgotten.

Writers kill because we are human. Death and killing is a part of who we are as a species. Every great story has death in it. A death. Or more than one death. It’s necessary, to be honest, in order to make the stories come to life, to be real. Which is kind of ironic in a way.

There’s that armchair-philosopher maxim that states: Given an infinite universe and infinite time, all things will happen. You could extrapolate that to creative mediums and say that every character in every book or comic or TV show or movie exists in some alt-universe out there, somewhere in the vast unknowable vastness of existence.

Which begs the question… am I pretending to kill a character off? Or am I causing the death of someone, somewhere… out there?

And that for me is a very interesting rabbit hole to jump down into and explore. It brings up question about morality and existence – the should I or shouldn’t I? aspect of just about every decision you make in your life.

In all of literature, how many “lives” have been extinguished in the name of entertaining those of us in the real world? How many have been snuffed out to enrich the life experience of us here in this one who consume the pages their brief time is opened to us?

Writing a death shouldn’t be just some small thing. It’s something that should be given thought too… even the small, nameless and faceless ones that happen to bystanders and those “people” that get caught in a building fire, that are no way involved in the main thread of your story or narrative.

Everyone of those ‘characters’ has a life don’t they?

And that’s something that, in these politically volatile and fractious times, we all forget in heated moments. Everyone has a story, everyone is the lead in their own narrative.

Comb through any thread or topic on your favorite book or comic or film and inevitably you will find statements that causally comment on or dissect the death of a character, and no doubt you will find ones that discuss them in terms that range from dismissive to derision. We treat literary deaths as though they rank on a scale – probably because they do.

What is meaningful in a story is only rated in terms of how it affects the main characters. All others are chaff on the wind. And how does that apply to our real lives?

Do you feel the same about the death of Robin Williams as you do about the death of a relative, or Umberto Eco?

As a writer, I’ve killed a great many characters. And to tell you the truth, some I didn’t even think about. They were side-line entities, there only necessary as a minor moment in a greater scene.

I think that speaks volumes about how we look at life. ‘If it isn’t happening to me, then how important is it really?’

I can’t really say if that’s healthy or not. Life is complicated and filled with so much information and a constant stream of events that we can’t give equal weight to them all. And it’s the same with death I think. Some times its too much to deal with. The weight of it is too much to take. And other times its a simple as turning a page or closing a door.

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2 thoughts on “I am a Murderer

  1. It’s my belief that a beloved character’s death should make the reader value the remaining characters more. It increases emotional investment in the remaining life/lives. To me, this is reflected also in real life. To sample from your citations, the death of Jonathan Winters made me value Robin Williams more. The death of Robin Williams makes me value… well, all comedians quite frankly. Good post!

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