Viewpoint Character Dies

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Cookie
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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Cookie » May 24th, 2011, 10:47 am

Mike R wrote:But, Mira, what about my characters that want to kill?
"I want to kill! Kill, kill kill!"

I kill off one of my viewpoint characters. But I do it at the very end. It is very important that that person dies.
Spoiler:
Also, hello, 1984? I am Legend? Brave New World? Stranger In A Strange Land (was Mike a viewpoint character? I cant remember)? They all die. Albeit the very end, but they are still contain viewpoint characters that bite the bullet. Also, Shakespeare. He did it a lot.

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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Guardian » May 24th, 2011, 11:25 am

If the MC / Viewpoint charcter is not the narrator, the character can die anytime, anywhere without any problem. If the viewpoint character = narrator, in that case, it's risky as with the death of the narrator, the story also should end.
Killing off a viewpoint character screams "Teen writer who thinks 'Ah! NO-ONE's ever thought of this before, and it will be terribly shocking to the audience!'"
I have to partially agree with this. The only exceptions are; 1, if the VPC is not equal with your narrator, 2, you can pull out the death of the Viewpoint Character, 3, if you give a true reason, a cause and effect for this event. Without any of these, especially just to shock the reader... yep, it's a rookie mistake.

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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Falls Apart » May 24th, 2011, 11:51 am

Killing off a viewpoint character screams "Teen writer who thinks 'Ah! NO-ONE's ever thought of this before, and it will be terribly shocking to the audience!'"

As you can see from this thread alone, it's not original, or even particularly uncommon.

For the love of your book, please change it. Make Howard the viewpoint character for all Trent's bits - they are working together, so surely it won't be all that hard (or at least, not impossible - you wrote it, you can rewrite it). All you'll be losing is the supposed shock value of having a viewpoint character die. Which doesn't have shock value at all, and will cause the majority of publisher/agent types to sigh in despair.
Eh, I'm not sure I agree with you here. If it's unoriginal, then obviously it's worked for some people, but if a lot of people think it hasn't been done before, clearly it's not cliche. And it can have shock value, but not because it's the viewpoint character. It has as much shock value as the death of any character. If the author is using it solely for the shock factor of its "originality," then it won't work. But if it works with the plotline, and there are other possible narrators, (e.g., a book that "hops" POVs, or uses 3rd person omniscient), then it can be fine. What was probably the problem here was that the editors didn't like how it worked in the particular book. It's just like with everything else: if it works, it works.

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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Margo » May 24th, 2011, 12:38 pm

Hi, Craig.

Did you happen to get into a discussion with any of the editors about why they didn't think you should do this? That's an important question. We can all come with reasons why we do or don't like the idea, or how many other writers have done it well or poorly, or how many time we've tried to pull it off in our own WIPs.

But the issue of should/shouldn't you can hardly be resolved thoughtfully without addressing why several editors said don't do it.
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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Watcher55 » May 24th, 2011, 12:43 pm

FallsApart said what I was going to say, only better.

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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Margo » May 24th, 2011, 12:46 pm

Falls Apart wrote:It's just like with everything else: if it works, it works.
But as writers, don't we think everything we've left in a story after the first couple of revisions 'works'? Until a couple of betas and a couple of editors point out it doesn't work. In my experience, it takes a LOT of practice to learn to feel out what really does and doesn't work in our own writing, and even then, sometimes it's only a feeling that something isn't quite right without a strong sense of what the problem is.
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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Watcher55 » May 24th, 2011, 3:07 pm

Margo wrote:But as writers, don't we think everything we've left in a story after the first couple of revisions 'works'? Until a couple of betas and a couple of editors point out it doesn't work. In my experience, it takes a LOT of practice to learn to feel out what really does and doesn't work in our own writing, and even then, sometimes it's only a feeling that something isn't quite right without a strong sense of what the problem is.
Absolutely, but the issue here, I think, is the idea of those on high saying - "Don't," especially when it's in the context of a pitched idea. I just think such advice should be couched in terms like: "That strategy can be tricky..." or "I'd advise against...but what doesn't sell today, might..."

It's the difference between foreclosing on a valid, if treacherous, strategy and pointing out weaknesses in an actual draft.

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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Margo » May 24th, 2011, 4:00 pm

Watcher55 wrote:Absolutely, but the issue here, I think, is the idea of those on high saying - "Don't,"...
Hence, my post asking if Craig had asked them why. 'Why' is a topic I don't think writers get into often enough. Instead, we get defensive because we have already done what 'they' say not to do. So we go looking for other writers to validate our choice (without even having read our work), when the better choice would be to find out why 'they' said no to the idea, get into the nuts and bolts of the issue, and figure out how it works from the inside. Then, the writer can say, "Oh, I get why they said don't do this. Because it messes this up and prevents this from happening. BUT, if I tweak this and shift that, it will work just fine."

Very important question: Why?

Only understanding limitations frees one from them.

(Is koan, dude.)
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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Sommer Leigh » May 24th, 2011, 4:55 pm

I'm going with Margo on this one. Before I found the book (under the spoiler button in my first comment) I would have said, no way. It doesn't work. You can't do that to your readers. But then I read the book (under the spoiler button in my first comment) and even though there was one very tiny, very easy to miss hint of what was to come, when the viewpoint character DIED very very suddenly and very very violently, I was totally blown away. It was handled masterfully and made the story so much richer. It sticks to your ribs and the death of that character still haunts me many months later. In this book the viewpoint character switched to the original viewpoint character's brother. And while he'd been around the whole story, he had never been the main character. Because the reader's pain for the loss of the main character was so intense, we were able to grieve right along with the brother.

So while I don't often see this done, I can no longer say that it CAN'T be done or SHOULDN'T be done. Instead I'd ask, is it necessary? What do you hope to gain from this transition? What do you think you might lose? What do others say is being lost in the transition? Can your goal be accomplished in a different way? Are you asking too much of the reader and is the reader supported through such a big change?
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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by polymath » May 24th, 2011, 5:26 pm

It's far easier to codify a simple set of expectations and impose them on others than it is to have an open mind about unlimited potentials.

A case in point, how many parts of speech are there? Eight, according to general Western classic linguistic theory: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, and interjection. Many parts in other lingusitic theories. Dozens? Hundreds? Depends on who's asked. A high school grammarian would say definitively eight, no more, no less, as it's been since the 2nd century BCE. Easier to teach to eight than dozens or more for minds newly able to process up to seven or so disparate thoughts at a time. Like, what about articles? Discourse markers that are devoid of meaning? Like, you know, I mean, well, okay.

Two people fishing on a dock. One hooks a fish.

Oh. Oh. Oh.
Yeah?
Uh-huh.
Huh?
Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
Huh. Huh. Huh. Huh. Hah.
Huh-uh.
Yep.
Oh.


Editors are as vulnerable to codifying and imposing simple expectations as anyone in any discipline. Though doing so in creative arts stifles creativity.

I'm satisified Craig has artful reasons for Trent's death. How artfully it's executed I can't say without reading the manuscript.
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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by chvyg80 » May 24th, 2011, 7:48 pm

I agree with Margo. Did you ask the editors why they felt it wouldn't work. If their reasons are just because you don't suppose to, then I say you follow your own feeling about it. Only you know your characters and your story and if you think it's an important detail in making the story work, I say go for it. It isn't the norm, but why would you want a book that is the norm? I also agree with Falls Apart. As long as you're not killing him strictly for shock value, than it should be okay. FallsApart says it so much better!
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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Watcher55 » May 24th, 2011, 9:11 pm

Margo wrote:
Watcher55 wrote:Absolutely, but the issue here, I think, is the idea of those on high saying - "Don't,"...
Hence, my post asking if Craig had asked them why. 'Why' is a topic I don't think writers get into often enough. Instead, we get defensive because we have already done what 'they' say not to do. So we go looking for other writers to validate our choice (without even having read our work), when the better choice would be to find out why 'they' said no to the idea, get into the nuts and bolts of the issue, and figure out how it works from the inside. Then, the writer can say, "Oh, I get why they said don't do this. Because it messes this up and prevents this from happening. BUT, if I tweak this and shift that, it will work just fine."

Very important question: Why?

Only understanding limitations frees one from them.

(Is koan, dude.)
I get ya' - "seek first to understand..." and your right, the onus is on the writer to seek that kind of clarification, but lacking that, I like to think these discussions are about investigating the "why" AND being defensive. :)

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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by craig » May 24th, 2011, 9:53 pm

Sorry for disappearing for so long!

I made a writer friend at the pitch session and we've become fast friends and are currently reading each others work and providing edits to each other. I've never had a writer friend like that -- we talked about punctuation for an hour and never got bored...

Anyway... no, I didn't ask why a viewpoint character cannot die -- I was too in awe of the fact that these editors were being incredibly helpful and providing line by line feedback on things like my synopsis, query, and first few pages that I didn't want to challenge them with a question. After the first editor told me the viewpoint character cannot die, I asked the second editor -- she said that the character *really* should not die, but if he must, then leave it in (but said with a tone of voice that implies it must be a last resort sort of thing).

The other thought that struck me was that the one that was adamant that I cannot allow the viewpoint character to die is one of the short fiction editors that was there. (There were three editors -- one handled novels and the other two handled short fiction.) So it got me wondering if that's maybe a more hard and fast rule in short fiction?

(And I appreciate the varying opinions that came up since I last logged in -- thanks all!)

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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Collectonian » May 25th, 2011, 1:41 am

About the only time I could see it being a "viewpoint character just can't die" is if it is written in first-person point of view. Then, it is very difficult to handle well (though I vaguely remember reading a discussion in another forum that mentioned a few titles that did just that). You mentioned that yours is third-person, though, so just can't see why a viewpoint character can't die. Any character is fair game for dying, if that is what the story and characters dictate. In one of my WIPs, a secondary character dies that I had no intention of dying when I started, but the characters and the story said no, he was going to. I even wrote an ending where he is brought back, but I've come to terms with having to rewrite it because even my characters were screaming it was bad :-P

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Re: Viewpoint Character Dies

Post by Mira » May 25th, 2011, 11:56 am

Mike R wrote:But, Mira, what about my characters that want to kill?
That's what fictional insects are for. It's noble and heroic to stomp on a cockroach. Let them crunch roaches to their heart's content.

But why are you creating characters that want to kill anyway?

One should only create characters that want to dance in the daisies and frolic with the little bunny rabbits.

You people are a bloodthirsty lot. Sheesh.

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