Risky Fiction

Honorable men, well, they die hard, but they still die.” — Nicola (the film Bunraku)

As an author I want to create a sense for the reader that, once the series is firmly established, anyone could die.


I have approached my scifi military series ‘Necrospace‘ with this in mind. I know that for the most part (unless I surprise myself at some point) my main protagonist Samuel Hyst is going to survive any given book so that he can be around for the next installment, because though we may visit some subplots, this series is his story.

Until it isn’t.

Do I plan on killing off my main character?

Not really, but I’m open to it, which is why I’m building up all the supporting characters. I don’t know who is going to get killed in this book or that book, because I’m following this story only a few steps ahead of my readers (keeps it fun to write!). Maybe there will come a point in the series where its time for Samuel to meet his end and for one of the other characters to step onto the main stage. In the first book ‘Salvage Marines‘ all of the supporting characters began on equal footing as far as development, though as we go into the second book ‘Dead Worlds‘ not all of the supporting characters survived the first story, and now new ones are taking their place in book two, though a core group of supporting cast have now managed to survive not only one but two installments. They are growing as characters, and while not to the degree of the protagonist, I am confident that I could, if I wanted to, kill off Samuel Hyst and pass the protagonist torch to a supporting character who is ready to take the lead.

As an author I like having that option, and as a reader that is exactly what I want out of a series. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Dresden Files, but I know that Wizard Harry Dresden is never going to die, at least until the author decides to write one last novel and call it quits (because final installments all bets are off!). I want to create a story where we have multitudes of characters who can take center stage when a protagonist bites the big one. I’m not writing from so many perspectives as George RR Martin or anythying, though I am certainly taking a page from his style and continuing in my Necrospace series without the certainty that it will always be “The Samuel Hyst Show”, and that he might die or disappear and someone else could take the helm.

I’ll miss Samuel, if he goes, the same way I miss several of the supporting characters in Necrospace who have already come and gone, but that is what I like about what I’ll call ‘risky fiction’, the fact that after the setting and the characters are established the crosshairs of mortality could come to rest on anyone, even the protagonist of an on-going series.

That’s the great thing about stories… those characters that you loved and hated can rise and fall over and over again, in all their glory.

“I live. I die. I live again!” — Nux (Mad Max: Fury Road)

2 comments on “Risky Fiction

  1. Killing off main characters is becoming too much of a fad. I like your Necrospace series, and I like it particularly because of Samuel. If you kill him off I’ll probably lose interest- I’m only one reader but I’m sure there are others. I guess you could say it’s risky fiction for more than one reason- the potential loss of your fans along with the main character you’ve decided to kill after he was basically the entire point of the series.

    • That is indeed a fair observation. If suddenly Harry Dresden DID in fact get killed in The Dresden Chronicles, and I found out there were a few more books planned after he was gone, that would be really weird. I love the series, so I’m sure I’d give the author the benefit of the doubt and at least get one more book, but as you say, I would have to be truly hooked by whomever took up the spotlight in order to stick around. What I know 100% that I won’t personally do is kill off any characters (main or supporting) just to be cool, follow a fad, or for any reason that isn’t authentic to the story. There is a fine balance, I think, between maintaining a ‘credible threat’ in a story, especially a series, and keeping the same character in the spotlight. Will Samuel Hyst die? I hope not, probably not, he and his family have gone through so much already, and I agree its possible that I’d lose readers if I bushwhacked him, especially if it wasn’t an authentic moment. Got to strive for that balance between risk and reward.

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