Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Killing Your Precious Darlings

By Sariah S. Wilson

No, this is not a blog about putting your dogs in traffic. This is a blog about killing characters in books.

As most of the free world already knows, J.K. Rowling announced the deaths of two additional characters (big, main characters) in the last Harry Potter book that she didn’t originally plan on killing. This may be in addition to characters she had already planned to off (although she does tell us that one character was granted a reprieve, so woot for small favors).

If you’re a buying-the-new-Harry-Potter-book-at-midnight-at-Barnes-&-Noble person like I am, I can only assume that this announcement filled you with as much dread as it did me. I’m very worried for poor Harry. Particularly since in the same interview Rowling said she understood why people killed off their main characters - so that years after she’s dead no one can do a continuation (don’t you think that after you’re dead you won’t care? George Lucas has done the same sort of thing - he’s set it up in his estate so that nobody can ever make another movie about Luke, Leia and Han Solo. Is it a reaction to Alexandra Ripley’s “Scarlett?” Yes, it’s a bad sequel and bad sequels do happen, but remember, you’re dead. You really and truly will not care if someone does a bad sequel to your book).

So Harry = dead meat. Don’t you think?

Of course, Rowling is immensely clever. This could all be some sort of ruse where we worry and panic and then Harry will make it out alive in the end. Or, on the other hand, she could be trying to soften the blow by giving us small warnings now so that it’s not quite so devastating.

Personally, I think Rowling owes it to me and to her reading public to let Harry live. I’ve worried over his future since the fifth book and the revealing of the prophecy. There is a line in it that makes it sound as if in order for Voldemort to die, Harry has to die. Sort of like a “Dragonheart” thing. Dumbledore interpreted the prophecy differently for Harry’s benefit, but I thought that’s what it was trying to say. And given Harry’s hero complex it is entirely believable that he would die to save his friends. But then…I think of Harry’s parents giving up their own lives so that Harry could live. And all of the other sacrifices made by others over the years to keep him safe and alive. What, so that in the end he could just die?

I was watching some commentary on my special edition seven-season collection of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and Joss Whedon (series creator and writer of every best episode) talked about the series’ final episode. He bantered a lot of different ideas around of how to end this cult favorite. He considered having Buffy sacrifice herself all Harry-like for her friends. He knew people would have to die - you can’t face that great of an evil and not have people die (sort of like what Rowling said about her last book). But he said he came to a point where he realized that there were characters that were untouchable - Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles - that HAD to live. He put aside his own artistic need to make the ending more bittersweet (and possibly more realistic) to give the fans what they wanted. And that’s one of the many reasons Joss Whedon completely rocks. He said that his audience would never forgive him if those core main characters didn’t make it through the final fight.

Ya hear that Rowling? The audience will NEVER FORGIVE you if you kill off Harry, Ron or Hermione. I know you’re richer than the queen and you don’t care if the entire world hates you for killing Harry because you can buy Texas if you want, but there’s a reason you own a castle. It’s because of your audience who trusted you and believed in you and really, really wants Harry to live.

Writers talk a lot about their artistic vision, their Muse, staying true to their craft. But at some point audience reaction has to figure in to what you’re trying to sell. If you make your audience unhappy, career longevity will not be in your future. You have to figure out what your target audience wants. Or as R.L. Stine put it in the June 2006 “Writer” magazine:

I hear other authors saying, “Write from your heart. Write what you feel.” That’s horrible. What a way to turn people away from writing. I’ve never written a single thing from my heart. I write to entertain people. I pick out an audience, and I learn about them and what they like, and I write the best book I can for them. You can make a really good living and have a lot of fun writing things for other people.


At 7/01/2006 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, when they killed off Buffy at the end of the 5th season (and I think they made that decision before it was certain they'd be picked up on another network), I was okay with it, sort of. I mean, I was really sad that the series was over, but if she was going to day, that was absolutely the way for it to happen.

Having done that, I don't think anyone would have bought it if Whedon had killed her off again at the end of season 7. He no longer had that option. I found that whole "First" thing a little less compelling than other story lines they'd done, but I did like the "Girl Power" ending.

And I absolutley agree with your comments about HP & Rowling. I suppose it's too late to do anything about it, but I wonder if a petition of some sort would have any effect.

(P.S. I slipped one time while teaching Gospel Doctrine and used an off-the-cuff, unplanned quote from Buffy once. Don't do that. It sort of lessens your credibility as an inspired teacher.)

At 7/01/2006 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops. I meant, "if she was going to DIE, that was absolutely the way for it to happen."

At 7/01/2006 1:31 PM, Anonymous mesolili said...

Personally, I really don't think J.K. Rowling is going to kill Harry Potter off in the next book...maybe I'm wrong, but I really can't see it happening.

At 7/02/2006 5:29 PM, Anonymous krystina dalton said...

I think that the rest of the characters are fair game, but Harry? No way. Even if she wanted to, I don't think her publisher would let her. She has way too many fans for that to happen. It is my understanding that although she could understand why some authors killed off their main characters, she hadn't really considered killing Harry.

At 7/03/2006 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I am afraid that I completely disagree with you about killing off Harry. Don't get me wrong, I completely love Harry, heck, I have a crush on the kid playing him who is 10 years younger than me, but that is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that when she planned to write the books they were meant to be all there was to that particular story and she had no further plans for stories about Harry. Not only do I think he is unfortunately going to die, but I also believe that she intended it from the beginning. But I also think that the other person who is going to die is Ginny, she loves him enough to die for him which will give him the same power that his mother bestowed upon him with her sacrifice. It will be Ron and Hermione who will live on and Harry and Ginny will be buried beside each other (I hold strongly that she is way to plucky to allow him to break it off in order to protect her). So, to make my rambling short, I think it is not a change of plans for her to kill Harry, I saw that interview too and maybe I missed it, but I didn't remember hearing her say that she origionally hadn't planned on killing those charachters, it sounded like she had always planned it. (My children were distracting me during the clip I saw, so I might be off.)
The arguement that you are making is sound and as much as I hate to believe it, I still do. I think she will kill him in order for him to stop Voldemort. Your arguement also sounds much too much like the people who think that there is some cosmic way that Dumbledore isn't dead, and, frankly, he is dead and people just need to accept it, just like Harry is going to die.

At 7/03/2006 8:22 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Okay, I could possibly buy the Harry dying thing. But as an author I am very confident we haven't seen the last of Dumbledore. You have created the most powerful wizard in the world. The only wizard that Voldemort fears. And you have him die with a beg and a whimper? Not in this lifetime.

Could you have Dumbledore die? Absolutely. But it would be in a blaze of glory, with a major battle raging around him. If Dumbledore is dead, it is because he can come back like his phoenix. Hmm Order of the Phenix.

The other reason I am confident we have not seen the last of big D is because of the doubt the author has intentionally created. If you create doubt in the character's minds, you can have them discover that D id dead. But when you have all of the chracters confident that the person is dead and the only doubt is in the reader's mind, then your only out is to have him come back to life or say, oh and by the way he really, really, is dead. That just doesn't work


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