Is this the tree where they met? See my short story, “The Right Time”. To find it, click on the Original Fiction link.
The thing that most shocks people out of their skulls when they read George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is the abandon with which he kills off major characters. Characters so major that you’ve assumed all along that the series is about them.
Ask any writer, and I think they’ll tell you that their characters become a kind of family. After all, you come to know them so well that you hear their voices in your head. So killing them is not something done lightly. The question is, why kill off major characters at all?
One reason might be to reflect the times in which the characters live. If you read Charles Dickens, you’ll find it entirely possible in some books to lose count of the number of deaths. But consider: in the 1800’s, one in five children were dead by age five, and those who survived childhood could expect to be dead by forty. Death in those times was very much a part of life.
Another reason is what I call the Joss Whedon effect. Fans of the TV series Firefly were, to put it mildly, shocked that two major characters were killed in the follow-up movie, Serenity. The reason for this, as Joss Whedon explained in the movie commentary, was to place some doubt in the minds of the audience as to whether or not the remaining characters would survive. After all, in most stories, no matter how harrowing the action, the major characters generally pull through. The only real question is, how will they pull through? By killing two characters, Whedon shook us out of our complacency and really made us wonder not just how, but if our beloved characters would survive.
This line of thinking was prompted by a comment I received regarding one of my fanfic stories. “Western Castle” is an alternate universe version of Castle set in the wild west. In that story, I killed off one of the major characters. Why? Partly to achieve the Joss Whedon effect, so that the reader would wonder who would survive, and partly to resolve a minor plotting problem that would arise later on if the character didn’t die. The comment I received was to the effect that killing that character was painful to that reader. For a writer, that’s a nice compliment, tempered by the fact that I didn’t create the character in the first place, but still.
Regarding the death of major characters, the worst thing you can do is what is so commonly done in comic books: bringing supposedly dead characters back to life. This, of course, completely obliterates any drama around death. Rather, the reader will likely yawn and ask herself how long this time before the character comes back.
In The Avengers, Joss Whedon did it again, killing off a major character to better motivate the remaining heroes to come together. Painful, but forgivable. Less forgivable was bringing that character back to life in the TV series, Agents of Shield. From now on, any death in any Marvel Universe movie will be greeted by yawns, not tears.
If you use death, make it matter. Use the death to achieve a plot goal or to shake up readers’ expectations. And keep your characters dead once they’re dead. After all, you can only toy with your readers so long before they decide they don’t want to play any more.
I have a direct response to him in the comments there, which basically is, no, actually, I’m really proud of my Fan Writer Hugo, it’s important to me for all sorts of reasons, and I mention it here not infrequently. At the same time I’m careful how I advertise the win in my professional life because I recognize that a fair number of fans would be spiky about me using it there. In my case it’s not about worrying that it’s an amateur award, but trying to…
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Do you read or write FanFiction? Do you care about it? If so, then there’s an article that might interest you at Wired.com.
Again according to Wikipedia, FanFiction.net is the largest FanFiction site, hosting some millions of stories. I post stories there myself based on characters created in Doctor Who, Castle, Firefly, and others.
The Wired article makes the case that FanFiction has generally been looked down upon by the writing community, but that this may be changing. They note that a new publisher, Big Bang Press, having successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign, will be publishing original works by FanFiction authors. Just as interesting as the article are the comments.
Normally I shy away from the comments section of Internet articles. They all too often have the intellectual and emotional maturity of eight-year-old miscreants on speed. Not these comments, which are well written and thought-provoking. They make some excellent points.
The key point is this: the world is full of derivative works of art. (If you want to impress your friends, talk about intertextuality, my new word for the day. You can look it up at Wikipedia.) Would you turn up your nose at AMC’s The Walking Dead because it’s based on a series of comic books? (Sorry, graphic novels.) Then there’s Robert Jordan, author of the beloved Wheel of Time series, who wrote a number of books based on Conan, created by Robert E. Howard. By Crom! And the list goes on.
Let’s be honest. Part of the reason FanFiction has its reputation is because of the quality of the writing. But come on. Lots of FanFic authors are kids. How often have you heard adults wringing their hands at how seldom kids read these days, and blame it on the Internet and (gasp!) Social Media (the source of all evil). But at places like FanFiction.net, you’ll find lots of kids, university students, and young adults who not only read, they write. They deserve to be cheered on, regardless of whether or not their prose is a match for Alice Munro.
Which isn’t to say you won’t find some great FanFiction stories out there. If you are skeptical, just check out “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” by Eliezer Yudkowsky. You’d be hard pressed to find any commercially published work that was funnier or more thought-provoking. I’ve seen some FanFics that were painful to read, and some that were a joy. You can explore what-ifs, alternate universes, and the further adventures of your favourite characters. And all for free. Really, what’s not to like?
Writing FanFiction is fun, you see, and FanFics can be fun to read. Once you find some authors you like and start to follow them regularly, you’ll find the experience more and more rewarding.
Feeling spontaneous? Here’s some spontaneous FanFiction for you.
“Wash, we seem to be getting a might close to that sun,” Mal said.
Wash held the flight controls tightly and grimaced. “Afraid we’re going to get a whole lot closer, Cap’n. We’re caught in its gravity well. Got a plan though,” he said.
“Please tell me it doesn’t involve turning my boat into a molten puddle.”
“Can’t promise anything, but I think I can slingshot us ‘round the sun if I increase the speed,” Wash said.
“Sorry, did you say you wanted to fly us into the sun faster? That’s your plan?”
“Here we go,” Wash said, and keyed in the course and speed.
Mal picked up the intercom. “Um, this is the Captain. Those of you who like your meat extra crispy are in for a treat. Hang on to something.”
Some time later, he wasn’t sure how long, Mal picked himself up off the floor in confusion. Then it came to him. The sun. Slingshotting. Glancing out the forward window, they seemed to be in orbit around a planet that he didn’t recognize.
Mal shook Wash by the shoulder. “Wash! I need to you come ‘round, figure out where we are.”
But as Wash struggled to regain his sensibilities, Serenity received a voice transmission.
“This is Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. Please identify yourself.”
Mal and Wash looked at each other.
“Oh, crap,” said Wash.
Oh, didn’t I say? You can write FanFiction crossovers as well. Feel free to take the above as a writing prompt and finish the story.
The image is from http://keep-calm-and.tumblr.com