I’m at a part in Shark Punching where I need to have the bad guy have an early brush with the main character to set him up as a character. The bad guy gets cornered in the room and attacks another character who is trying to stop him. Part of me wants to kill the other character so that the bridge is burned and the MC can never go back, but if I do that, the MC won’t believe the bad guy when he tries to sell himself as just misunderstood. If he leaves the other guy dead, that’s out the window.
I’m writing a gritty fantasy with not a lot of hope, and brutal short life expectancies, but rather than that making life or happiness cheap, it’s the most valued commodity in the world. The world is going to be harsh and brutal, buy people clinging together for whatever reason have more motivation to hold on than let go.
I know Game of Thrones is big on introducing a one use character that struts and frets his hour upon the stage…(a)nd then is heard no more because his head is now on a pole or is encased in melted gold, but I think death should still have a more important reason than to just shock the MC. A brutal death that means nothing just desensitizes me, and I want my reader to remain fully engaged.
The first story I ever realized that killing a character wasn’t something to take lightly was in the sequel to the original version of Misbegotten. The MC’s brother lived and died as an ass, and when it came to the point where the MC was going to do something against his moral code to solve the problem, it didn’t ring right. Why would he care? Going back and changing the MC’s brother though, caused a log jam. I spent six months not touching the story and then six months trying to figure out a way around not killing a character that I had rewritten because now I cared if he lived or died, but the plot couldn’t move forward if he was just severely inconvenienced. There are times when the death has to happen, and there are times when you can spare the character who lives a lifetime of suffering if your character never has to see them again.
It shouldn’t be controversial to say every death should matter greatly, and having a senseless death be senseless should be like using fennel seeds. There are a few recipes where that taste fits exactly, but it’s not something anyone wants to eat all the time.