[SPOILER ALERT] The outcomes of a few of my books will be revealed here.
In real life, bad stuff happens. Accidents, shootings, illnesses, war, famine, etc. People die every day, some after fulfilling lives, others cut short in tragic ways. We see it on the news, read about personal accounts on the internet, and sometimes experience it ourselves.
In fiction, bad stuff happens. Unless you write romance, not every story is guaranteed a HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happily for now). In fact, in fantasy and science fiction, characters often do encounter a host of hardships. We cheer for our favorite characters to overcome the obstacles and succeed in their endeavors, just as we wish we could in our real lives. As readers, we expect the good guys to always win, right?
Not always. Sometimes, the only way out for a character is by losing, or what a reader perceives as losing.
Not every story has a happy ending. Sometimes the only way for a character to win is through death or transformation. It can put a new twist on a story or a series. Some writers do this to excess (ahem, I’m looking at you George Martin). Readers have varying degrees of tolerance for such endings or events in a story. I’ve learned that the hard way.
However, as in real life, in fiction, there are no guarantees for characters. I’ve done this in A Turn of Curses and Tiger Born, each of them forewarning that the characters will die. The light in that is what they achieve while living and the effects their lives and deaths have upon the other characters. Death has meaning in those stories, because I gave them meanings. Other characters were meant to learn from their struggles to the end and to grow from that. In ATOC, Faldon honors Selina’s death by changing. In TB, Nadia awakens to the truth about half-bloods in Je’Rol’s death.
My brother’s death changed me. I had always believed in valuing every minute of every day, but there was much more I was meant to do. He wanted me to be something and his death pushed me to work harder to achieve what I could in my life because his was cut short. I know he wants me to succeed and I continue to push myself. I wrote the Legend of the White Dragon because of him–a story he would have loved and one in which several characters do die at the end in the battle to defend those they love.
Meaningless deaths of characters are a cop-out, but used properly, the death of a character can push other characters to change in ways they wouldn’t have without that very powerful emotional event. It can move readers in ways nothing else can and speaks volumes of the emotional impact of the writing.
I am justifying my reasoning in using the deaths of characters. I don’t use it all the time, but sometimes a story wants to go in that direction. I’m not afraid to take that chance. I only hope that readers understand that not all endings are happy, but they all have meaning.