We were sitting on the couch, watching the HBO rendition of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, known to most people who have never read the books as A Game of Thrones. My wife and I rather enjoy the series. There are some things I could do without, little changes between the show and the books and the gratuitous sex, but other than that, we have a good time watching it. It was the episode known as The Red Wedding. Now, I had already read the books, so I knew what was going to happen. I literally sat on the edge of the couch. When Kellie, my wife, would ask, “What is up with you?” I would simply reply, “Just wait for it.”
Then it came. I won’t tell you what, exactly, just to avoid any spoilers for any of you that might want to read the books. But the scene I had been waiting for happened and my wife hit me as hard as she could on the shoulder and almost started crying. Someone had died. No, not someone, a main character, a protagonist, a mover and shaker, someone we had come to really like—love maybe, someone with whom we empathized. They were dead, never to be seen again save for reruns, and then again, why would you want to watch a rerun with them in it, only to know their inevitable fate? My wife hated it. I loved it.
Fiction, especially Science Fiction and Fantasy, is a break from reality. People read it, for the most part, to escape the everyday doldrums of life. We get to live the life of a hero, a princess, a powerful wizard, a dragon slayer, a king, a universe-known smuggler with a soft heart, you pick. We get to imagine, live in worlds that don’t exist, dabble in ideas that are simply . . . well, fiction. In fact, we see books and movies that are technically fiction, technically fantasy, but they are so close to reality that people almost revolt against them. I truly believe that those who really don’t like A Song of Ice and Fire hate it because it, in many ways, resembles the twisted, wicked, aristocratic, dictatorial societies of our own world 500 years ago as well as today. It’s too close to reality. Where’s the magic? Where are the orcs? Hell, where’re the damn elves? Can you really have a fantasy book without any elves? Ok, it does have dragons. I really do like A Song of Ice and Fire.
So, back to my point. Fiction is a break from reality, but if it breaks too much from reality, we are left with something that is completely unbelievable. I know, I know. Right now you are asking, “Um, how are dwarves and elves and orcs and dragons believable?” Well, take that grumpy dwarf blacksmith and replace him with your grumpy, mechanic father-in-law. That might have been too personal. Hopefully, my wife doesn’t read this. Sorry Sweetie. Take the haughty, stuck up, pretentious elf traveling with the protagonist and replace him with your coworker who is always right, always speaking out in meetings, always talking about his new BMW, always wearing designer shirts that you make fun of even though you really wish you could afford one, and who definitely can afford all of this because of the trust fund his grandparents set up for him. And all the while you hate to admit that this guy really is your friend and a good guy. How about that ugly orc? Maybe a big, brutish, dark-haired German Nazi (no offense to anyone who is German) who is chasing after the protagonist—an American spy during WWII—trying to thwart his plans to smuggle a Jewish family out of Nazi Germany. Ok, ok, but dragons? The dog that’s really not a pet and does his own thing, but in the end always helps. Or, possibly, the uncertainty of nature, the unknown. I know. That last one was deep. Very metaphorical.
My point is, when you really think about it, all of these characters or creatures really are believable. They are simply representations of real people, real creatures, real ideas, and real problems. A mystery buff might call a fantasy lover a nerd, but the mystery reader’s detective is just a hobbit to the fantasy fanatic. The fantasy lover might find romance almost vomitous, but what is the relationship between Arwen and Aragorn but a love story, a romance. Despite the break from reality that any fiction poses to the reader, but especially genres like fantasy and science fiction, it still has some elements of reality to which we can relate. We typically could replace the main character with ourselves. I’ve been Aragorn, Sparrowhawk, Jamie Lannister, Kylar Stern, Ender, Drizzt Do’Urden, Jack Ryan, heck, I’ve even been Erik, one of the main characters from my own book. It is the believability of the situation, the characters that make us want to read these books, and I truly believe, as a one time English teacher, that it is the lack of believability of Greek heroes that makes it hard for our students to read an epic poem like The Odyssey.
So what am I getting at. There are very few critiques I have of Tolkien. His work, to me, is amazing and set the groundwork for every other fantasy artist in the 20th and 21st centuries. One of those critiques is, however, the fact that no one dies—at least no one important. Boromir dies, but if you are like me, you never really liked him anyway. The movies do more to give him some sort of likeable qualities than the text. Frodo and Sam should’ve died but they are miraculously rescued by the Giant Eagles. Gandalf “dies,” but not really. Théoden dies, but again, if you read the book rather than watch the movie, at least I was not as attached. I want someone to die. I want some conflict, some heart wrenching moment that tests the resolve of the characters. I want something that gives real motivation to the action and the plot. Again, let me reiterate, I love Lord of the Rings. But if I could change one thing, I think it would that. You wouldn’t have a murder mystery without a murder, why have a fantasy adventure without people dying—on both sides. I mean, was anyone else perturbed by Wulfgar coming back to life in the Drizzt books? Was anyone irritated that Spock came back to life?
Anyways, back to my wife and I watching Game of Thrones. I know my wife was pissed and sad and a mix of ten other emotions when that main character died. Part of her even wanted to stop watching the series (even though she still watches it). And that is exactly the reaction I want as an author. I want people to be so bought into my characters that if one dies, and they should since they are on a dangerous, treacherous mission with any number of perils along the way, that they will be mad and sad and depressed and irritated and outraged. That means I’m doing my job as an author, right?
So, in my humble opinion authors, especially fantasy and science fiction authors, kill of a main character. It will drive your story and make your readers care. Someone must die.
Be sure to check out A Chance Beginning: Book One of the Shadow’s Fire Series. You can find it through amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Beginning-Book-Shadows-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00KB3SO90/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410796540&sr=8-1&keywords=a+chance+beginning
Thanks and Happy Reading!