I’ve seen several memes floating about regarding character death. All of them begin with a picture of J.K. Rowling saying “It’s hard killing off so many characters.” On the lower half was a photo of another writer and their response.
George R.R. Martin: “You’re adorable.”
Joss Whedon: “You’re new here, aren’t you.”
Stephen King: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of my characters’ screaming.”
This is a joke (as most internet memes are) and the responses are of course fictitious. What I’m driving at here is that stories are driven by conflict. Great achievement must come at great sacrifice — such as a dead protagonist. Sacrifice comes through conflict, and conflict cannot exist without evil.
Evil doesn’t always result in death. The worst evil is slow and subtle, and destroys your soul long before your body.
I advise every writer who reads this to dig inside themselves and find a shard of evil. I don’t mean maniacal overlord evil, I mean preacher evil. I mean schoolyard bully evil. I mean passive-aggressive-boss evil. Something that not only exists and walks in this world; but something that knows, deep down, the pain it inflicts is just and fair.
Writing and reading is a form of escape. We live vicariously through the people and worlds we create. It’s important every now and then to open the trap door, walk down into the basement, and say hello to the creature you’ve kept locked in the psychic cage. Some of them are abstract — from children, to purring liars, to twitching monstrosities that drool acid and hiss obscene desires directly into your brain. Imagine the same spirit in a housewife. In a friend. In a colleague. They all believe they’re right. Let them show you why.
Maybe the hero will believe them, and then make the wrong choice.
“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
– H.L. Mencken
“Hell is paved with good Samaritans.”
– William M. Holden