I remember vividly the line from The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks that tore my heart out and left me with tears streaming down my cheeks.
Then the mace slipped from his hand, his eyes glazed over; with a long sigh, his body slid slowly, lifelessly to the death that had finally claimed him.
No! It was nearly the scream heard round the world.
Every reader has had a similar experience, I’m sure. You’re lost in the story, the characters have become like family and you yearn for that happily ever after ending, the one where everyone makes it out alive. Battered and bruised, perhaps, but ready to fight another day. The next thing you know, that evil author has pulled the rug out from under you. You can barely stand to read on as your heart crumbles to dust.
The resounding question is always, why?
Well, trust me, from an author’s perspective (at least this author) it’s often no easier for us to kill off a character we’re hoping will be well-loved, than it is to read it. Heck, sometimes it’s not even easy to kill off the bad guys. I mean, really, who doesn’t love a good baddy? We adore our characters as much, or possibly more, than our readers do. After all, they’re part of us.
But think about it, what keeps you turning the pages? Well, besides a well-crafted story, that is. What keeps you on the edge of your seat, fingers shaking as you flip one page to the next one? What tugs you along, sinking you deeper and deeper into the world the author has created?
Many things. But one of the biggest is tension, and to build that tension there must be risk. The higher the risk, the more the tension. Face it, if you know without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what gets thrown at your favorite hero, she will emerge victorious at the end, you may still thoroughly enjoy the read, but not with the same emotional investment. And that’s what it’s all about. If you can’t be certain what will happen next, if there is a possibility someone may not make it to the next page, aren’t you going to be just a bit more engaged in the tale?
I know I am.
When I put on my Reader hat, I want to get lost. I want the world around me to fade to grey while the world on the pages runs roughshod over my emotions.
And, just like life, the unexpected happens.
So, next time your favorite character meets with his demise and you want to throw the book across the room (which I wouldn’t recommend with an e-reader. No, not a good idea at all.) wipe your tears and thank the author.
“Thank the author? But, they’ve ripped my heart out, pounced on it, crushed it into dust and sent it blowing in the wind.”
Yes. They transported you to another world and got you so totally lost, nothing else around you mattered.
Isn’t that why we read in the first place?