The fact is, as writers, we often deal in death. We bring into being characters whose whole purpose for being is to die. Sometimes a random extra wanders onto the page that needs culling for effect. Sometimes death is happening and you need fodder for the cannons so you implement a platoon of redshirts to bolster your numbers. And sometimes, from among those ranks of the doomed to died, you come to love a character. You know from their beginning you’re going to have to kill them, but they weasel their way into your heart. That’s okay. In fact, that’s great! If you love the character then odds are your readers will too. That makes it all the better when that character dies because your readers will be emotionally invested.
Today, in memory of all those characters destined for death, I want to send out a short tribute. December 1st has been appointed Redshirt Remembrance Day by Western Australian writer, Hadiyah Stephens. She invites us to take a moment to remember a character we’ve loved and murdered for the sake of a compelling story.
“For those of you don’t recognise that ‘red-shirt’ reference, it’s a Star Trek one. If you see a random, nameless red shirt in Star Trek… he will die. It’s inevitable, it nearly always happens. So in dedication of all the red-shirts in our stories, ‘We miss you, but you die for the better good of our word counts and stories.’” ~ Hadiyah Stephens
In the first of my Red-shirt Remembrances I give these words in honour, respect, and thanks to a character in my book, The Flight of Torque. Unlike those nameless redshirts, this character has a name. He was however a relatively minor character in the book. From the moment of his creation he was always intended to be fodder for my protagonist. The moment of his birth he was destined to die in a gruesome and brutal way that would torture and torment my heroine. His reason for living was in the manner of his dying.
And you know what? I didn’t love him in the beginning. He’s a “bad guy” and there’s a lot about him not to love. He was vengeful, vacuous, violent, vagrant, and vapid. He was other derogatory words that don’t start with the letter ‘v’ too. But as I wrote him into the story I explored him. I discovered his voice and had fun with it. I watched the beauty of his movements. I followed the wonky way of his thoughts. I began to know his quirks. Over time I came to like him. I was no longer sure I wanted to send this character into the cold, dark night of eternal slumber.
Still, the story called for his demise. In true writerly fashion I drew it out in all its glorious wonder. I used the relationship I’d formed with him to make it meaningful and to make sure it hit a raw nerve with my protagonist. His death pushed the story onward and upward. It served the story and that is what a good death always does.
So, to Carny, may you live the lives that never see the page and be in death a tribute to your story.