Friday, December 11, 2009

Writers Killing off Their Characters . . .

I just saw a very intriguing television advertisement by a VERY famous writer who says he'll kill off his lead character in his next book if readers don't buy enough copies of his latest book. He grinned and I took it as a joke, but it got me thinking. Chances are very good the ad will work and more copies will sell. I just wish I dared try it, but I don't.

Writers who kill off unlikeable characters often win the hearts of their readers. But writers who kill off popular characters risk everything from loss of readership and/or publisher to being chased into a dark alley and mugged by angry readers. Writing books is a risky business. Even killing off minor characters who were well liked by loyal readers can spark a backlash. Let's don't even talk about what happens when a writer kills a child or an animal in fiction. It's basically courting disaster. It's asking to be mugged in a dark alley.

Writers who stop writing an original series and begin a new one with new characters also court disaster. Pull it off, create new characters that your loyal fans can fall in love with, and you're in business, literally. Off with the old, on with the new.

Writers who don't pull it off will lose the loyal fans they already have and may or may not find a whole new fan base. Again, risky move in a risky business.

I've had female readers tell me they had a crush on my male lead character, Sheriff Joe Dalton in the Metropolis Mystery series. Lucky for me, those readers stuck with me when I began the Kitty Bloodworth series. There will be a new Kitty Bloodworth/'57 Chevy book in July of '10. Due to circumstances beyond my control, there was a longer than usual period between Kitty book #1 and Kitty book #2. I'm hoping that doesn't translate to lost readers.

In this down economy, and with more and more folks putting fingers to keyboard to write the next Great American Novel, just staying published is iffy, is difficult, is downright scary. Killing off favorite characters is becoming beyond risky. With less money to spend on books, readers are choosier than ever. Writers DO have to write what they feel and not what's hot because what's hot today is downright frozen out by the time any new book goes to press. However, we also have to keep an eye on what readers will and won't tolerate, if we want to keep our fans happy. And keep them reading our books. And avoid dark alleys.


Janet said...

No lost reader for you here. I'm waiting for the next Kitty. The other author - I gave those up a while back when the plots seemed repetitious to me.

Sandra Parshall said...

When that Very Famous Author made his threat, my first thought was, Is that a threat or a promise? Hoping it was a promise...

He's achieved what he wanted to: he's got everybody talking about him, his book, and his ad.

As an author, I don't think writers should be held hostage by readers when plotting their books, but as a reader I hate it when a familiar character is killed off. When such a death occurred in one series, I lost interest in the books, and I've never regained it. I've read a couple of later ones, but too much had changed and I couldn't enjoy them.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I remember Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock and then had to bring him back after the outcry!

I take really good care of my protagonists. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lonnie Cruse said...

Janet, thanks, the next Kitty will be out in July (crossing my fingers)!!

Thanks everyone for yoour comments!

Paul Lamb said...

Remember when John Updike finally killed off Rabbit Angstrom? It was time, and he'd given that character a good life (over four novels and a Pulitzer Prize), but then he found a way to bring him back in short stories set before his death. (Check me on this.)

Undine said...

Many years before she died, Agatha Christie wrote novels where she killed off Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, with instructions that they should only be published after she herself died. Evidently, she did not want her fictional characters to outlive her.

I always found something extremely perverse about that.