An Inside Look at Revision: Should the Character Remain Alive? What Use Will Death Serve?

Gustave Dore's Puss in Boots
Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation is available on Amazon and Smashwords. With every chapter, I posted notes about the process of revision.

Chapter 19

I've mentioned in previous posts that I consider death to be a poor pay-off. Ironically (or hypocritically, depending on one's point of view), I've killed off the occasional character myself. It's always a struggle. When writing "Her Society" (Leading Edge #57), a tale that tackles the death penalty, I pondered the ending for several months since I couldn't decide whether the main character should carry out the final act of execution. I was worried not just because execution would mean the loss of a supporting character (who possibly merited a sequel) but because choosing execution would psychologically damage my main character.

My solution was to have it both ways: the story ends the way it needed to end in terms of character and theme; however, a slight ambiguity was inserted to make the other ending possible (in retrospect).

The final confrontation between Aubrey and her nemesis in Aubrey raised the same issue. Should he be killed (he certainly deserves it) or should he be kept alive? What would his death do to Aubrey--or say about her? Would he prove useful in later stories?

The issue, I wish to point out, is a writing problem, not a matter of profundity. There is nothing instantly meritorious about a Death (capital "D") all by itself. Far too many writers, especially new writers, seem to think this. "D"=Instant Philosophical Attitudinizing. There's a connection here to why I don't allow my students to write their argument/persuasion essays on the USUAL BIG TOPICS (abortion, gay marriage, marijuana, and steroids). The students usually prefer to tackle these topics because they don't have to hunt far to find passionate opinions on them: Passionate is seen as the equivalent of insightful.

The connection to fiction is not that writers should only write about obscure topics. Or, even, that they need to come up with especially unique things to say about, well, death. Rather, the connection is that seeing something as BIG AND PROFOUND doesn't actually make it BIG AND PROFOUND. Having a character DIE!!!! doesn't really mean all that much just because it IS death. Unless the story follows the character into heaven, meaning rests with the survivors.

Consequently, I ultimately realized that it didn't really matter what happened to the nemesis. It only mattered what happened to my main character. Which was very freeing.

*I am a fan of Gustave Dore's lovely drawings. This one, Puss in Boots, is the ultimate cat-with-attitude! 

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