How many is too many? That depends on a lot; tone, genre, audience expectations. It's not a question of quantity, ie how many innocents die, but quality, ie how the scene reads. An actioneer could have the villain destroy a bridge, sending cars careening into the water below, and come across as less disturbing than a single murder in a thriller, depending on where the scene's focus is placed.Originally Posted by StarryEyes
The story I'm subbing is creature horror, so there are a few death scenes. The hardest one to write, however, was not the creature being loosed on a crowd. It was the scene where the biggest unrepentant SOB of the story lures another girl the MC's age into a tower and pushes her down the stairs. The first one had a higher body count, but the second had a much sadder, grimmer tone.
Oh yes, Hunger Games! Didn't think of that
In my story the villain promises the MC that he's going to make her suffer till the end, murdering all her friends until she stands alone... Of course I can't let that happen, but to give him a bit of credibility he should at least get the chance to murder a couple! I'm off to drown a child then (in my WIP, I mean!).
Thanks for your advice, you're all very encouraging.
Some agents stipulate that they don't want to even look at stories where children are killed, abducted or injured. That seems a little sensitive to me, since there are plenty of classic works where underage individuals suffer horribly, and sometimes even die (I mean, Jo's sister died in Little Women). I mean, who wants to write a story with children as support characters if all they do is hang around in the background being "twee" or if there is absolutely no hardship or risk experienced by child protagonists? For heaven's sake, even Harry Potter has some suffering and death on the parts of kids in the story, and it's written for kids! A child running away from an abusive situation (and temporarily landing in something even worse) is a classic trope in fantasy and many other genres.
Having said this, I tend to be a bit more protective of kids (and animals) as a reader and writer. Maybe it's something to do with how we're wired as humans. We want to protect the helpless and so are especially distressed when they die in stories. This desire to protect the helpless can be used to create tension and to raise the stakes for characters, though.
I personally think that if the death advances the plot and is not portrayed in a lurid, gratuitous way that's simply meant to titillate or horrify, then it's probably fine. It certainly sounds like something that would whip your character into action in a way that most of us could relate to.
Some readers do get angry over the death of a character they like, but if it's clear that the death was important to the plot or accomplished something important, most "forgive" the writer.
I tend to get "mad" at writers for killing characters when I either feel they're doing it simply because they don't want to bother with the character anymore or because they're doing it simply for shock value or to make you sad without its having a real impact on the story itself.
I really don't like it when writers kill the protagonists off at the end of a series as a way of making it clear to fans, agents and editors that they are absolutely done with writing anything more about these characters. I think there are more satisfying ways of giving a series closure than that
It's a good way to make the reader connect with the MC and also hate the villian.
I can't remember where I read it nor the author who said it but it was something along the lines of - if you want the reader to hate the villian make them kill a dog... Whether thats the MC's dog or whatever. Just an example of how making the villian do something repulsive saddens the reader and can spur them on to keep reading. It works to IMO I hate it when a dog when a dies in a story and I hate the villian even more.
In one of my works in progress, one of the more prominent good characters is publicly hung in front her partner.
I just watched Law abiding citizen the other day where his wife and little daughter are brutally murdered.
( on another note I really didn't like the end of that movie)
"Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight" - Johnny Cash.
On the other hand, if you want a way to soften an event like that (maybe for other stories that want a slightly different tone) you might:
- Don't target a child. Like they say, that's about as nasty as it gets.
- Minimize the victim's suffering, or at least how much of it the MC has to watch. --Maybe the victim's already dead of "natural causes" and the villain simply reveals "that was me." (Or, the victim survives, maybe injured or even "that was just too close"...)
- Give the villain his comeuppance fast. He might be killed (if there are other villains in the wings) or just driven off in a really humiliating way, but a lot of a story's impact comes from pacing and and how cheaply the latest victory has been bought.
for more about the paranormal thriller SHADOWED and the Unified Writing Field Theory, see www.kenhughesauthor.com
I guess I'm the voice of dissent here as I don't enjoy reading about the murder of kids when it's used as an authorly tool to make things worse for a main character (rather than, um, the gleeful and meaningless slaughter of innocents. Yay!). My problem is that it can work brilliantly when done well but, most of the time, I can almost sense the author trying to tug on my heart strings and force an emotional response. It's comes only second to rape as a plot device for me and, unfortunately, in many cases it is done in such a cack-handed fashion that I can't quite work out if the writer meant me to cry over it or enjoy it.
So I personally would pause before reading something which kills kids that a) I've got to know throughout the story, or b) whose death is described in more detail than 'the school exploded in a fireball from which no life could ever emerge.' But this is clearly just a personal opinion. If you can make it the one big thing that pushes a character through the plot then awesome. It needs to be huge, and the affects need to last.