Time for a morbid post again but not in the same way as ‘True Love’, honest. The image I included on my Facebook page (if you haven’t been to the page yet, drop by and give it a ‘like’) for this post is a photo of my very own Bob the Skull. I’m a massive Dresden Files fan and have my very own bony adviser sitting on my desk, staring at me as I work. And like Bob helping Harry Dresden, my skull ornament made me think.
When you read any story, the greatest risk to the characters is always death.
Death has been rendered as, almost since the beginning of time, the looming black threat with the bone face who is always there, waiting for the hands of the clock to tick round for each and every one of us. We all know that whatever narrative is taking place, whatever action is unfolding, the possibility of the characters succumbing to the bony finger of doom gives us the most tension. We all know that the threat makes the action more believable, more relevant. Superman, a God amongst men, impervious to anything the Earth and the human race can throw at him, is a pretty boring character without the threat of kryptonite.
Death is the ultimate booby prize but take it away and all you’re left with is just the characters moving through the story until they get to the end without there being any real risk.
None of us like death. It robs us of loved ones and gives us nothing but sadness but it makes everything in life so much more valuable. An immortal would ultimately find little of value in life as there would be no risk to the time coming to an end. Completely without an end, you could do anything, any number of times. You would be able to experience everything, achieve anything, which can only lead to there being no further surprises. You’d know everything so all you’d be able to do was repeat until everyone else is gone. You imagine there only being one song you could ever listen to. After a while, not a great experience. Dull. Meaningless. All been done before.
Death creates value. Death means that you have to make the most of the time you have available before your turn comes round. When I write, I’m aware that I have to have the characters I’m dealing with go through the same situation. That fact will make them more real to the reader. I want to make the reader feel that everyone is always at risk just like the rest of us, even if they do have super powers.
The hope will always be that I get a good balance of risk and then empathy for the characters from the reader that should there be the need for any of them to make the ultimate sacrifice everyone will see the value of what they have done. I’m aiming to always create the ultimate connection so should a character die, the reader will feel the loss. I doubt I’ll be able to be this good but it’s always good to have a target.