Monday, July 27, 2009

A Knife to the Throat

I guess you could say I'm a cynical reader. Remember during the publication of Harry Potter, when seemingly sane people worried that she might kill Harry? I always thought this was ridiculous. Of course she wasn't going to kill Harry. He was the HERO. They always survive.

But, looking back now, I can better appreciate what Rowling did. She had millions of people worried that Harry might actually die. She had the knife to his throat, and for lots of people, it was entirely possible she might use it.


I love a good action scene -- truly, I do -- but that's a lot different than actually exposing your characters to mortal danger (or psychological or emotional danger). I wonder if sometimes, writers head into action scenes already emotionally knowing their character will survive. That's risky, because it bleeds into the emotional arc of the scene. The danger isn't felt as deeply as it could be because the conclusion is foregone. The lows aren't as low, so the highs can't be as high. In other words, we're leaving something on the table. The stakes aren't as high as they could be, aren't even as high as they appear to be.

Maybe next time I write an action scene, I'll kill off the main character. Just to scare myself silly, and so can I really feel it, so I know intimately what kind of fate I'm avoiding. I can always save him on the rewrite.


Natasha Fondren said...

That's an awesome idea. I love practicing in new ways like that. Shakes things up.

Mark Terry said...

An interesting idea. I did kill Derek at the end of the 2nd novel, The Serpent's Kiss, at least, sort of.

But I feel the more I write a series the more I should hold out my option, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of just killing off the main character.

LurkerMonkey said...


I'm always surprised by how much I learn from exercises like this.

LurkerMonkey said...

How did it feel to kill your MC? I've never done it.

Melanie Avila said...

That's an excellent point about knowing going into an action scene that your hero will survive. During the first draft of The Other Side, I was convinced my MC would die. It wasn't that I wanted him to die, I just didn't want him to succeed. I also wanted the story to END, and what better way than to kill him?

As I went through the drafts, I kept going back and forth, unable to decide if he would make it. I hope I made the right decision.

LurkerMonkey said...


Now I'm dying to know: did he live?

But I know you can't tell me :)