Sometimes Madame LaFarge Has to Die

23 Feb

As an author, I get it–it helps to kill off a main character now and then to keep the stakes real, and not feel like a comic book. However, it needs to be important to the plot, and not just… happen.

I don’t wanna give away the spoiler for what I was reading, but man, it really irked me when one of the main characters (not the POV character) suddenly dies. I had to actually go back and read the scene again because it happened so fast! The character just dies and the author just moved on to the next scene! Apparently the author addressed this in a later interview, “We were telling a war story, people die in war, and I realized that our characters hadn’t really felt that loss yet.”

Seriously? When the author killed another character earlier in the book, at least it was the chapter end, and it was very obvious. “Oh, you blew his head off.” It was important, it was clear, and even if it seemed random, it advanced the plot. This read like an afterthought. At this point, I should remember what my father-in-law said, “If you don’t like my story, write your own!”

But I also remember what my friend Nathan said when he had to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He said, “I love Madame Lafarge. It’s obvious the author loves Madame Lafarge. But the entire plot was leading up to her and the guillotine. Sometimes Madame Lafarge has to die.”

I liked this phrase so much that–although it’s not one of my maxims–it is one of the guiding stars when I write my stories. It IS important to have the stakes be high in a story. In a comic book, the main characters will never die. Or they’ll die, but come back in a couple episodes. Or they’ll die and become the villain. But they always come back. When you have to kill a character, the other characters should have to deal with the consequences. It SHOULD make the struggle real. In real life, people die suddenly and without warning. But this is a story–you don’t invest several hundred pages just to kill someone off as an afterthought. That’s not making the struggle real–that’s a late edit.

Oh well, not my universe. Thinking back to Dickens, my grandpa used to misquote the famous lines at the climax, probably he never read the book either. “It is a far better thing I do… then to say hello to you!” I thought it was hilarious. But what do you think? Have you run into senseless deaths in stories? Killing off the POV character at the end of a book is material for another post. But have you ever thrown a book across the room because you were so mad? Let me know in the comments below!

2 Responses to “Sometimes Madame LaFarge Has to Die”

  1. Mal February 23, 2021 at 11:03 am #

    I think there may be a dramatic realism to the quick at-war death. Yes, this was a special character for the reader. You were obviously quite invested in them to be as upset as you are (it’s a good thing). But not only do people die in war, LOADS of people die in war. The character death was one of thousands. It humanized their death, made it one of the masses by switching right over to the next scene. It was a shock! One second the character is there and alive for the reader and the next second they’re not. Just like a quick death in war. The other characters surrounding the dead hero would’ve been just as startled and upset as the reader.

    There’s a certain victory the author has in writing this scene so well that you are so affected by it. They character was made almost real.

  2. Silk Cords February 25, 2021 at 12:31 am #

    I’d have to PARTIALLY disagree with the comment above. A character death can have that impact on a reader if it’s executed (pun intended) properly OR if it’s handled completely wrong for any number of reasons. A case and point is The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, by author R. A. Salvatore. Yes the same Salvatore of Drizzt / Forgotten Realms fame. Chewbacca was killed off in that book just because the core characters had never suffered any casualties and Salvatore felt it made the situation feel more grave for the team. Yes, spoilers, but the book has been out 26 years… The fan backlash was severe to say the least.

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